Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Didn't Have To Be Conned To Like The Brothers Bloom

From their childhood in a long series of gloomy foster homes to their highflying lives as international con artists, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) have shared everything. Bloom yearns for “an unwritten life”—a real adventure, one not dreamed up by his old brother. Eager to retire, Bloom agrees to take part in one last grand scam. He insinuates himself into the life of Penelope (Rachel Wiesz), a bored, single New Jersey heiress. When a genuine romance begins to blossom between them, he is reluctant to exploit her naiveté, but Penelope has already taken the bait: She impulsively joins Bloom, Stephen and their “associate,” a sexy Japanese explosives expert named Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), on an ocean liner to Greece. Penelope is convinced she’s happened upon the adventure of a lifetime and offers to bankroll a million dollar deal. As Stephen’s elaborate web of deceit pulls tighter, Bloom begins to wonder if his brother has devised the most dangerous con of his life in The Brothers Bloom.

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo star as siblings, who have been working as conmen since they were children. There is a constant tug of war between them, with Bloom (Brody) desperate to get out of the game, while his brother Stephen (Ruffalo) drags him back. Like so many other films, The Brothers Bloom hinges on "one last job;" here, it is to steal millions from lonely, bored heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz) while they pose as antique dealers. But Bloom falls in love with the charming Penelope, and the con gets even more complicated. Johnson's directorial debut, "Brick", was a critically aclaimed exercise in style, and The Brothers Bloom proves to be even better crafted. In both its gorgeous aesthetic and its witty script, this is a film that is incredibly modern while it remains in the spirit of classic con films such as "Paper Moon". Johnson has assembled a fantastic cast that more than holds their own. His three leads are great together, and he gets wonderful supporting work from Rinko Kikuchi as a nearly silent explosives expert and Robbie Coltrane as a Belgian who may or may not be on their side (and, in fact, may or may not be Belgian). There are plenty of twists and turns on this road, but this fun film proves there's joy in the journey. The Brothers Bloom, with its narration by Ricky Jay, plays like a modern fairy tale. Penelope is the princess, Bang-Bang is the court jester, Bloom is the romantic prince, and Stephen is the bitter troublemaker. Everyone involved brings a gleeful energy to the project that has turned some people off. Is The Brothers Bloom glib and even sometimes overly manic? Yes, but it's also overwhelmingly intelligent and, to this viewer, straight-up fun. It's the kind of film that arguably twists one or two too many times and may be a little self-consciously aware of its cleverness but I never cared while I was watching it. I just enjoyed every single frame. And then there's Weisz, giving another great performance. She's both luminescent in her beauty and displays crack comic timing. She's simply excellent. Brody and Ruffalo are very good too but Weisz walks off with the ultimate con – almost stealing the movie.  A nearly silent performance steals Rian Johnson's con-man comedy The Brothers Bloom; it's a heist that threatens to dwarf the heist in the movie itself. Rinko Kikuchi plays Bang Bang, an explosives expert who slinks through the movie almost wordlessly, lighting her cigarettes with a butane torch and looking elaborately disdainful. At one point, she peels an apple with deliberate care, then eats the peel. In cherry-red lipstick and dark glasses, she's a walking mystery. She just showed up one day, we're told of her character, and someday she'll just disappear; meanwhile, we can't take our eyes off her. Johnson's movie, like his previous one feels more like a series of inspired touches than a cohesive whole — and, like "Brick," it runs out of steam in its third act. But it's a stylish and often sprightly take on the con-man movie genre, filled with food for thought. 

They live in a timeless world without cellphones and with cravats and fedoras and piles of Magritte apples, blooming with bright colors (a scene of yellow cornflowers seems to outshine the sun) and swingy retro clothing. And the performances, if you can tear your eyes off Kikuchi, are a kick. Ruffalo turns in another take on his soulful smart guy; Brody's all loosey-goosey charm (watch how he plays a harmonica, with his eyes lazily sliding over it); Weisz make something poetic from her ditsy yet forthright character. "The perfect con is one in which each side gets what they wanted," muses Stephen. Audiences may not entirely get what they want from "The Brothers Bloom" — Johnson, in just his second feature, is still a talented filmmaker-in-progress — but it's a happy enough distraction. The film looks amazing too with its gorgeous settings, filmed with the beautiful eye of Steve Yedlin. Even if the great con of the movie becomes too much for you to take or the characters don't work for you, The Brothers Bloom looks absolutely amazing. This one gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale. 

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