REVIEW: The Brothers Bloom
I’m gonna review Brick soon, but I just wanted to do whichever movie of Rian Johnson’s I saw first after starting this project. As a critic, it’s necessary to compare and contrast multiple films from directors. The comparisons between Johnson’s first two features are as readily apparent as the comparisons drawn between Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Both Brick and Bloom are pastiches of classic, Hays Code film genres–Brick the tightly wound noir thriller and Bloom the fast witted caper comedy. Where Brick is limited, Bloom is expansive. And, like Pulp Fiction, The Brothers Bloom aims too far and too high to achieve all of its goals perfectly. However, they’re also both excellent examples of the genres they pay homage to, and thus fantastic films in their own right.
The Brothers Bloom is a whimsical and lighthearted take on the Hollywood caper plot. The titular brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are a pair of con men. Stephen is the writer of the two, Bloom is the actor. Together, their cons are as literate and well-done as the greatest works of the greatest playwrights, only their audience–a single mark–is entirely unaware that they’re lying. Along with their cute, mute stage crew of one, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), the cons they create are works of art that will go unappreciated by the rest of the world for all of time. Bloom has never found any satisfaction in their work, and after quitting the confidence man business for the last time, Stephen lures him back in with one last job: Penelope (Rachel Weisz).
Bloom has only ever had one rule about their cons, stemming from the first job they ever pulled back when they were kids: no women. This bodes well.
Rian Johnson is a gifted comedic director, which is as surprising as seeing a fantastic tragedy from Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker. It’s obvious that Rian Johnson has studied the look and feel of Hays Code comedy so much that every frame in the movie shows his work. The movie is built on irises, characters generously placed in frame to maximize personal connections, wipes and fades. It is perhaps the closest to a classic movie that a colour film can get in modern cinematography. This is the icing on a cake of great writing, charming characters and capers in capers. I figured I should mention the fondant first, before getting to how it complements the delicious sponge this cake is made of. Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Cake Boss.
This movie knows its attitude through and through. The jokes are laugh a minute, but never overplayed like The Hangover managed to do every time Zach Galifianakis was on screen. It simply lets the humour evolve from the characters’ natural wits and interactions. It’s great then, that Johnson’s natural gifts for character writing have resulted in his wittiest characters yet. Each person in this film has a unique voice and style of humour. This even extends to one character who, outside of a karaoke sequence, speaks three words in the film. Yes, even mute explosives expert Bang Bang has a unique style of humour that is inimitable by any other character in the picture. The genuinely talented cast are definitely the biggest help in bringing the warmhearted tone of the script to life. Indeed, like every heist movie you’ve seen, Bloom falls for Penelope, their mark. But unlike the others, this one has a chance for a genuinely winning happy ending.
Penelope is the winner of the four caperers, if the film is viewed as a contest as to who is the most charming. She’s been shut in all her life, collecting hobbies and destroying cars by never learning to properly drive them. Sorry, did I say cars? I meant Ferraris. Rachel Weisz plays up her innocence over her hidden depths of knowledge about the outside world, and when she and Bloom fall for each other, her doe-eyed approach to storybook romance is the best part. Again, Johnson has found a way to make someone who, in another’s hands, would be a load or burden on the team, an integral part of the emotional arc of the movie.
Pay special attention to Stephen and Bloom throughout the feature, as their character interactions carry the emotional weight of the feature. Several statements from one to the other in the opening gambit set up plot points that pay off much, much later. To say that the conclusion is the best possible ending to this story is to understate its power. The subtle emotional elements that the film has been building up towards from the outset pay off in a finale worthy of the subtle, heartwarming nature of the rest of the film.
Whenever I talk about Brick, I always mention its complex plot. Exacerbated by slang, the only fault I can think of that movie having is being incomprehensible at the ending. Bloom also requires some watching to fully understand the plot and the various layers of literary references and subtle foreshadowing. Upon seeing Bloom, I recognized that not only is this an inextricable part of Johnson’s style as a filmmaker, it’s the highest compliment an auteur such as he can pay to his audience. Overestimating someone’s intelligence is a compliment, not an insult. Also, it’s better to make an intelligent, high quality film that merits watching and re-watching that respects its audience than to make a film that insults its audience with low humour and shoddy action editing.
It’s indeed snobbery to say that I prefer the wide-open cinematography and idiosyncratic character interactions in Bloom to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I’ve spent my life growing into that kind of snob, and I must say that as that snob, The Brothers Bloom is one of the most subtle, charming and winning comedies I’ve seen. From seeing Rian Johnson’s career begin at Brick and watching his next film here, all I can be is excited. It’s a very exciting moment in filmgoing. What we’re seeing is the beginning of a great career, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. THREE AND A HALF STARS