Monday, October 19, 2009



Several weeks ago a wild-eyed stranger approached me in a video store and told me that I needed to see THE BROTHERS BLOOM. He told me that it was fantastic and would require multiple viewings to appreciate. I am dedicating this review to said stranger because without his theatrics, I would have never disciplined myself to watch this film. BLOOM is a modern classic with literary allusions, solid performances, beautiful cinematography, and an intriguing plot. It is for the most part a dreamlike experience, but it ends on an unexpected, horribly false note.

BLOOM is written and directed by Rian Johnson. Johnson demonstrates a cultivated control of his craft. The dialogue is poetic, and initial plot foundation scenes are narrated in couplets. The entire tale is soaked in Melville and Joyce references. A symbol of a train and its moving wheels is shown several times as if to suggest existence in constant flux. Running dialogue gags such as blood tasting like tin foil permeate the film. Johnson, who previously directed BRICK, has successfully delivered a complex masterpiece.

Narrated by real-life magician Ricky Jay, THE BROTHERS BLOOM is a story about two grifter brothers and their constant hustle for the ultimate con. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the eldest, and from the beginning, he is the mastermind of the operation. BLOOM takes all of the hustle of THE STING and empowers Stephen with a Hannibal Lectoresque premeditation and comprehension of outcome. Stephen can read people and anticipate how they will react.

Bloom (Adrian Brody) is the younger brother and the key actor in all of Stephen’s cons. He has always had a thing for the ladies, but he seems to be less jaded than the average cad. Bloom is a romantic.

On the side, there is Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), a well-dressed, female Japanese weapons expert who says almost nothing but conveys plenty through body language and seems to know the mind of Stephen better than he does.

At the deepest root of this film is a story of two brothers who are completely inseparable. The most they seem to be able to spend apart is three months. Bloom is growing more and more tired of his life with Stephen, however. Stephen writes his cons for Bloom, yet Bloom wants to live an unscripted life. Stephen has Bloom completely figured out and plays the part of a controlling God for Bloom, but Bloom wants a different faith. Bloom longs to honestly fall in love with the right woman and not have the relationship tainted with Stephen’s manipulation and criminal endeavors.

The tension is in place between the brothers, and for their last con, they meet their match. Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz) is a shut-in eccentric with money to burn. She goes through three Lamborghinis in her first thirty minutes onscreen and acquires hobbies like chainsaw juggling to pass her time. Penelope is completely well-intentioned. She is the only honest character in the whole film. She is also off-the-wall, alone, and emotionally smarter than both of the brothers. Stephen scripts a con where the brothers are smugglers. Penelope, the mark, is adopted as part of the team. She embraces her role as a smuggler with childlike wonder. She is so indifferent to her fortune that when considering the million dollar investment that the con requires, she states that she needs a “real reason” not to invest. Bloom falls sincerely in love with her, and Penelope innocently comes between and unravels the brothers.

Bloom wants to leave the business, but Stephen is so used to taking care of Bloom that he can’t let him go. Penelope is so wide-eyed and dead-set in her integrity that the brothers don’t know how to function with her. This all leads to an ending which is so polished and frilled that it takes the viewer a moment to realize that it is strained, artificial, and heartless as the characters react unnaturally to the situation at hand. For all of the wonderful writing, visuals, and atmosphere, the last several minutes of BLOOM are unforgiveable. The disappointment here is that the film was well on its way to being perfect.

This film contains references to rap music, skateboarding, cell phones, and other contemporary pop culture, but it feels timeless and could be set anywhere from the 1920s to the present. Stephen and Bloom both wear era-indefinable dark suits and black fedoras. It is a retro/modern balancing act with class, exotic locations, lots of mimosas, and scotch whiskey. The atmosphere presented is similar to that of Wes Anderson’s THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS yet not as forced. Production values in BLOOM are through the roof. Everything onscreen has significance, and the camera swoops about tasting it all.

The wild-eyed stranger at the video store that told me about this film was correct: BLOOM warrants a second and even third viewing. This is a meticulously crafted piece of cinema. The attention to detail is mind-blowing. THE BROTHERS BLOOM is a beautiful film that sets out to dazzle and pontificate. It succeeds almost flawlessly. A key quote in the film states that “the trick to not feeling cheated is to know how to cheat.” Perhaps my problem with this movie is that I don’t know how to cheat.

-Mediasaurus Rex