In 2006 a movie made the arthouse rounds that turned heads. This movie stood out by using old parts in a new way. The man behind the curtain was Rian Johnson and the movie was Brick. It tells the story of a high school student looking into the murder of his ex-girlfriend. No, not terribly original, but picture this simple-on-the surface plot and apply the logic, dialog, and general style of the hard-boiled gumshoe stories of the 1930s. It was a breathtaking experience that has held up on repeat viewings. It is now three years later and Rian Johnson has returned with a new film, one that is distinctly different than Brick, yet still has that sense of originality combined with familiarity. Yes, The Brothers Bloom is here.
The only thing I needed to know about this film going in was that it was written and directed by Rian Johnson. Then I saw the trailer, and if there was any doubt that I wanted to see this, it was erased. Of course, I avoided spoilers and tried to keep my expectations in check. You never know if Brick was a fluke, or if having a sizable budget will have an effect on an up and coming director. The only other knowledge of the film I had before the screening was an interview with composer Nathan Johnson (Rian's cousin) where he discussed the project in non-spoiler fashion. It was an interesting talk and featured a couple of interesting passages from the score.
All right, enough of this preamble, I am sure you are much more interested in my thoughts on the film. In short, the movie is a slice of smile-inducing, tear-creating brilliance. The movie is distinctly different from Brick, yet it is still recognizable as coming from the same director.
At its basest, The Brothers Bloom is a con-man movie. It is about playing the con and taking it all the way, selling it on your way to the "perfect" con. What makes this con-man movie stand out is the unique vision that Rian Johnson brings to the tale. It has a very realistic feel to it, although it also exists in a distinctly fantasy-flavored world. The movie is bubbling with a bouncy kinetic energy that is hard not to get into. It transcends the con-man tale to tell a story about the people involved.
The movie opens in the past with the brothers as youngsters getting into trouble and bouncing around the foster home circuit before deciding they are better off on their own; they have a knack for pulling cons. The brothers are Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), the con craftsman, and Bloom (Adrien Brody) – no first name needed – the sympathetic face who longs to have a life that is not written by Stephen.
As we first meet them, they have just pulled off a successful con and are celebrating. Well, Stephen is celebrating and Bloom is planning his exit from this life. And so Bloom exits, heading off into the sunset for a life of unwritten anonymity. Of course, this does not last long as Stephen tracks him down to pull off one last con. The target is Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz), a rich orphan who lives a secluded life inside her large estate where she collects hobbies. The con is simple — get her out of her shell and encourage her to finance their antique business.
What they could not foresee is the relationship that develops between Bloom and Penelope. It crosses the line between a con-man and his mark and moves into something that is much more real and throws a large monkey wrench into their plans. I could continue with a plot description, but that would be a disservice to the wonders and twists contained within that deserve to be discovered fresh.
The Brothers Bloom is a movie that plays out like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gaining size, increasing in speed, running out of control, yet presents a beautiful image of complete destruction. The characters' fates are set in stone, yet they move through life wild and unhinged. It is truly a sight to see.
What helps this movie take the leap from good to great is in that way it surges along on an endless wave of kinetic energy, but also in the way the characters are approached by Rian Johnson, the writer, and the performers in question.
Mark Ruffalo has a rough and tumble take on Stephen. He is clearly the instigator, the brains of the outfit, always looking out for Bloom and loving the craft that goes into creating the con. Then there is Adrien Brody, whose character seems happy, but underneath the veneer is a person of profound sadness and loneliness, whose entire life has seemingly been scripted by his brother. He longs for something more, something real and it is tearing him up inside the way it is just beyond the grasp of his fingertips. Completing our primary trio is Rachel Weisz, whose Penelope has a similar sadness to her life, not because it has been scripted, but because she has been so alone and so cooped up inside the walls of her estate, she does not know how to talk to people. Her sadness is underlined by composer Nathan Johnson's theme for the character — it's happy on the surface, but with an undercurrent of sadness.
The supporting cast is no slouch either, the most prominent character being Bang Bang, played by Rinko Kikuchi. She is nearly silent for the entire movie, but she is always around adding so much to the scene, be it comedically or dramatically. The character is an integral part to the story and while she doesn't have much to say, she has an awful lot to do. Also playing important roles are Robbie Coltrane as the Curator and Maximilian Schell as Diamond Dog. They both have an important and long-lasting effect on the lives of the brothers Bloom.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the narration by Ricky Jay. The opening sequence of the characters as kids features a rhyming narration that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Rian Johnson has knocked another one out of the park. By taking the familiar and putting a unique spin on the elements he has crafted a story that deserves to be seen. Not only that, he has a wonderful visual style with interesting camera angles, transitions, and cuts. His sense of pacing is spot on, and there is never a moment here you are left to get bored. The man has immense talent and I look forward to whatever he has to offer next.
Bottom line. This movie has it all — drama, comedy, action, explosions, and an immense amount of heart. It goes in unexpected directions, and reaches the only conclusion it can. It will have an emotional impact as it ably shifts from the light-hearted to the dark and serious throughout. Do yourself a favor and dig into their secrets.