The Brothers Bloomby Kavish Chetty / 02.07.2009
The Brothers Bloom begins with a little ditty, the playful whimsy of which seems to have been director Rian Johnson’s guiding light:
“As far as con man stories go, I must have heard them all.
Of ropers, grifters, faro fixers, tales drawn long and tall…
but if one bears a bookmark in the confidence man’s tome
‘twould be that of Penelope, and of the Brothers Bloom.”
To the Brothers Bloom, gentlemen thieves decked out in top-hats and button-downs since youth, a ‘con’ is not simply an apple plucked from beneath an unsuspecting peddler’s nose, or a bank boorishly defrauded. No, a ‘con’ is a masterful work in fiction – with a hexagonal narrative, pathos and denouement. They are screenwriters, actors and directors in a fraudulent cinema of life; only one of the brothers, a first-name-less ‘Bloom’ (Adrien Brody), has grown disillusioned with the life-long con. He can no longer tell the difference between fiction and reality – he ‘wants out’.
But before he makes his escape, he’s predictably tempted with the carrot of one final con. And thusly we’re launched into a gutsy, transcontinental and labyrinthine adventure, as our gentlemen thieves and their mute assistant (petulantly played by Rinko Kikuchi) attempt to part a kooky millionaire-mademoiselle (Rachel Weisz) from her money.
The direction of the journey is, unfortunately, whimsical Wes Anderson without restraint. An overly gimmicky adventure yarn, with woefully predictable ‘clever’ quips etched into every scene, The Brothers Bloom is indie cinema with a blockbuster budget. As the con cutely winds toward it multiple conclusions, you’re sharply aware of the con-within-a-con storytelling that Johnson is trying so indelicately to veil. For the first half of the film, the wild eccentricity (with showy camera angles, goofball comedy and pencilled-in diagrams of the con superimposed over the shot) is fun and exciting. By the second half it’s indulgently overdone and you start to wonder whether the real con was shelling out the forty in dosh for a ticket. Although, with all his focus on pulling every comical cliché out of the book, I wonder whether Johnson was at all conscious of this irony.
The performances are appropriately quirky, with the other brother Bloom (Mark Ruffalo) a showman of many stripes; Rachel Weisz plays Penelope with unrestrained wide-eyed nuttiness. But even the remarkable exhibitionism of the cast cannot save this film from its naive fascination with itself.