Review: The Brothers Bloom (2008)

Director: Rian Johnson

***

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play The Brothers Bloom, a successful set of swindler siblings who had parted ways, but now the elder Stephen (Ruffalo) tries to convince the younger Bloom (Brody) to help him in one last con. Before the estate of George Roy Hill can call their lawyers, Bloom is conning his way into the life of wealthy eccentric (are their any other kinds of eccentric?) Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). Through a complicated series of journeys by sea and rail, the boys and their munitions expert Bang-Bang (Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi) set up an elaborate plan to con Penelope out of her cash However, there’s one problem: Bloom thinks he’s falling for her…

Writer/director Rian Johnson established himself with the intriguing-if-aloof teen noir homage Brick. Here, he lets the grittiness go and swaps it for a Sting-lite tale of cons and double-crossing. It’s far more fantastical than The Sting but, like every heist movie since 1973, The Brothers Bloom owes Hill’s caper a huge debt. The same feeling of fun is present throughout large parts of the movie. Ruffalo and Brody bounce off each other nicely, and Kikuchi has fun with a demented little role that requires only three words of English (One is Campari. Guess what the other two are). Weisz, meanwhile, is simply adorable, her kooky heiress seducing Bloom and viewer alike simply through her naiveté and childish enthusiasm. It’s an enthusiasm that infects the rest of the film, as this disparate crew zip all over the world. It’s full of energy, and a quick, clean wit that produces many a Cheshire grin.

If The Brothers Bloom is indebted to The Sting, it also owes a great deal to ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce’s sprawling Dublin epic. The leads are named after the main characters (Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom), and Penelope is the informal name for the final chapter of the book. More than names, however, the film also shares ‘Ulysses’’ episodic structure in which recurring elements and characters come and go between chapters that have little otherwise to do with each other. However, that structure is not altogether a good thing; each cut to a different location feels abrupt and jumpy. Furthermore, as the film goes on, and the Russian mob comes after our heroes, the tone shifts noticeably from light and frothy to uncertain and tense. As the first sign of gunfire become apparent, the mélange of tones threatens to derail the film on the home stretch. However, Johnson’s confident direction sees the film through potentially choppy seas to bring it home in one piece.

The Brothers Bloom is a lot of fun, energetic and intelligent, though it threatens to flit from the consciousness not long after seeing it. It’s no Sting, but it is still an enjoyable romp. George Roy Hill can sleep on: his tomb has been pillaged, but they didn’t quite get the treasure…

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