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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.09%
Worth A Look43.48%
Average: 4.35%
Pretty Bad: 26.09%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Brothers Bloom, The
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by Jay Seaver

"The perfect con."
5 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2009: "The Brothers Bloom" is a magic trick of a movie, done close-up by a magician who has not only shown that there is nothing up his sleeves, but who is in fact only wearing a vest so as to make the whole question moot. It brazenly informs the audience how it will end just as it's getting started, and happily declares that everything the to follow will be slight-of-hand and trickery, but manages to amuse and delight for all that.

Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are con artists, and have been for a quarter-century, when they were (respectively) thirteen and ten; a delightful prelude with Max Records and Zachary Gordon playing the brothers as children shows Stephen discovering his skill at planning an intricate con using Bloom as the leading man. Now, though, Bloom is wondering whether he has been playing parts so long as to no longer know who he is, and quits. Stephen tracks him down and asks him to help scam one more mark: Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a pretty heiress from New Jersey who, due to her unusual upbringing, is something of a hermit in her castle-like mansion. As usual, their assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) is along to assist with logistics; they also run into a couple other con artists, a Belgian calling himself The Curator (Robbie Coltrane) and their one-time mentor, Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell).

The script for The Brothers Bloom is self-referential enough to not just wink at the audience, but to wink at itself winking at the audience. Early on, it sets up a clever in-joke that is likely to sail right past much of the audience, except that writer/director Rian Johnson has a character pick up on it and blurt it out, and then ends the scene on a perfectly in-character joke rather than by patting himself on the back about how clever it is. The movie proper starts by showing us the end of one of Stephen's novelistic plots, not just foreshadowing how the next one will play out but reminding us how reference in movies and literature plays on the audience's expectations. The opening scene is narrated by famed con artistry expert/magician Ricky Jay, a fitting choice for that sort of fairy tale. All of the characters are constantly fiddling with playing cards, whether it be practicing card tricks or playing a variation of solitaire where all the cards are face-up.

For all the cleverness, structure, and self-reference Johnson presents us with, the film is never anything close to dry. Everything is brightly-colored, taking place on beautiful sets and locations, and crisply edited: Sometimes, Johnson will zip through a montage at a speed that is right on the border of too quickly, barely giving the audience time to start laughing at a bit before building on it; other times, he'll linger on a shot long enough to call attention to what is happening in the background. Of course, when he does that, it's not really in the background, is it, since that's where our attention is being focused? There's something funny going on almost constantly, running the gamut from rapid-fire banter to silent comedy.

The silent comedy is mostly supplied by Rinko Kikuchi, who is little-known in the west but has been in a whole bunch of fun Japanese films in the last few years. She somehow manages to catch the absolute perfect vibe for Bang Bang, cool and apparently detached at some points but playful (if not audibly giggly) at others. It's a brilliant comic performance, no matter who she is tasked with playing off.

Most of the time, it's Mark Ruffalo, who is pretty much brilliant here. Stephen is equal parts devil-may-care and hard-core planner, so quick-witted, manipulative, and aware of his own genius that we should, by rights, think he's a smarmy prick, but instead he's somehow charming. He manages to convince us with relatively few words of just how much Stephen loves his brother, even in scenes that superficially read as selfish. It's a great, standout performance which will probably get overlooked when awards and lists get made because it's so funny.

You can probably say the same thing about Rachel Weisz, for that matter, although she gets a few more showily dramatic moments and plays a character who is more obviously strange. She's still a delight to watch, making Penelope outright burst from her shell. Weisz is great at physical comedy, and does a wonderful job of making us believe both that she doesn't have much experience with the outside world and that discovering it is the Greatest. Thing. Ever! She's the perfect match for an balance to Adrien Brody's Bloom, who is dour and jaded and, in his own way, is just as inexperienced with real life as Penelope.

There's an upbeat score from Nathan Johnson, and I love the costuming (not enough people wear hats in this day and age). What makes the film a true delight is that even when it goes to darker places, it's often to show just how much the characters like one another. It's plain fun to watch Penelope and Bang Bang together, while Bloom genuinely seems like a perfect fit both with Stephen and Penelope. For all the tricks in the story, and as disreputable as these sorts of characters often are, the charm and good feeling is genuine.

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originally posted: 04/24/09 23:35:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2008 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2008 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/06/10 millersxing Self-effacing comedy has charm to spare. 4 stars
10/12/09 Daniel Wadham Best Film of 08 without a doubt 4 stars
7/22/09 Wendy Thompson Moderately awesome yarn, plus Rachel Weisz finally proves she's NOT Catherine Zeta-Jones. 4 stars
7/21/09 Regina George didn't really survive the school bus accident Possibly the 2nd best movie of millenium so far. 4 stars
6/11/09 Ming I like this film ..Its charming and witty...with their con game 3 stars
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  15-May-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Jan-2010


  DVD: 12-Jan-2010

Directed by
  Rian Johnson

Written by
  Rian Johnson

  Rachel Weisz
  Adrien Brody
  Mark Ruffalo
  Robbie Coltrane

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