The Brothers Bloom, 2008 [Only now receiving a UK cinema release].
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson.
Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi.
Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) have been con-artists since children. Bloom wants to quit but Stephen persuades him to take part in one last con. Their 'mark' is young rich recluse Penelope (Rachel Weisz), but will a meddling Belgian (Robbie Coltrane) and Bloom falling for Penelope scupper their plans?
The Brothers Bloom is the second feature by writer / director Rian Johnson, the young creator of Brick (2005), the hard-boiled, film noir-injected high school mystery that stunned audiences at Sundance and in cinemas. The blending of seemingly opposite genres, inspired genre dialogue, excellent, inventive camera-work and fantastic performances from a young cast propelled Brick to cult success.
There are many similarities to Brick laced into The Brothers Bloom, plus I'm a big fan of Auteur theory so I'm going to compare the two throughout. In genre terms this feature, like Brick, combines two main genres, in this case, that of the screwball comedy and the Hollywood caper movie, mixing manic visual humour with high jinks leaning into comical absurdism. The mixing is not restricted to the genre though, in fact it appears in many elements. The outfits the characters wear, notably the two brothers, are very classical, sometimes Western inspired or more in the vein of Hollywood gangsters. Some of the locations as well, like the train they travel in, is decorated in an almost Victorian style and the decision to shoot one section of the film in Prague (which I think is intended to be Bruges) utilises that place's unusual, atmospheric architecture to further displace the viewer. This displacement really shows when we realise, due to the appearance of modern technology such as chainsaws, mobile phones and the amusing epic-fail-pick-up-line mention of anime, that the film is not actually set at some indistinct point in the 30s or 40s, but actually modern day, with the older elements a clever, deliberate visual signifier of the blending of the genres.
The main characters all compliment each other very well, a praise not only of the actors but the writing also. The two brothers, scheming elder Stephen and reluctant Bloom bounce off each other amusingly with a convincing brotherly love/hate relationship. Rachel Weissz as the multi-hobbied Penelope is sweet, smart but naïve (at least on the surface) and Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang is flat out hilarious, stealing almost every scene she's in with her wacky mute performance. Whether she's blowing up dolls, showing up in eccentric outfits or just doing something laugh-out-loud funny in the background, Bang Bang is certainly the films highlight.
All of the key characters are misfits in their own ways. Penelope in that she has had been kept isolated inside her home (due to the discovery of alleged allergies in her youth), protected from her allergies aka, the world outside. Bang Bang, as a mute, is an obvious misfit, but one that revels in this opportunity to be as comically bizarre as she pleases. The Brothers are cast as misfits from the start, in the opening scene we see them aged ten & thirteen, alienated from the other children in their town and creating their first con as a way of getting back at the children but more importantly, finding their place in their world. Stephen's character is constantly planning new cons, and its mentioned in the film that he is telling stories, planning new endings for the characters he cares about, exhibiting a dissatisfaction with reality.
The humour of the film is mostly visual, through Bang Bang's body language & bizarre behaviour, smart camera tricks & editing and hysterical subtle jokes. One such joke is that Penelope keeps trying to give Bloom money by hiding a wedge of paper money in his clothes at certain points in the film, reaching its zenith when Bloom reaches into his jacket pocket during an argument with Stephen to pull out yet another wad of money before exasperatingly stuffing it back in. Its little jokes like this that combine with the zany bigger gags, for example Penelope's showcasing of her collected hobbies (edited sharply and quickly), that make the film so funny, both in a 'nudge-nudge' kind of way but also in a quirky, completely off-the-wall style too.
As I've mentioned, in a technical sense, Brothers Bloom is every bit as brilliant as Brick, with the camera work and editing being of particular note. In Brick, the camera would really take on a life of its own, say, Brendon's POV when he's been punched or staying static to further emphasise the action on screen. It would almost become a character, cool, calm, but with quick bursts of flurried activity, genuinely contributing to the narrative. Brothers Bloom continues this, with the hyperactive camera shooting action scenes competently but still staying cool and static to capture those little idiosyncrasities and smirk inducing moments. Its that the camera is used in this way, especially the slight, subtle movements to capture humour, that give the film a much more indie, Wes Anderson-inspired feel to it than Brick.
A insanely enjoyable, laugh-a-minute romp imbued with wonderful, well constructed characters, smart writing and a virtuoso visual knack, The Brothers Bloom is a worthy follow up to Brick. Two out of two is pretty damn good, Mr. Rian Johnson. Can't wait to see what's next.
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