The Brothers Bloom is the second feature film from writer/director Rian Johnson. His first, the high school film noir cult classic, Brick, revealed a promising filmmaker with a fluent style and a knack for writing interesting and unique characters. Brick was a critical success and found an audience on DVD. Because of this, Johnson’s follow-up was bound to be scrutinized as many would be left to wonder whether Johnson was part of the next wave of great filmmakers or just another one-hit wonder. In the end, Johnson’s second effort received limited release and didn’t do well at the box office, which is a shame, because The Brothers Bloom is a beautifully shot film that uses the wide screen to its advantage in all of its scope and color. Brothers is now available on DVD, and it builds on the promise of Brick, succeeding in all of the ways necessary to guarantee that Johnson will continue making movies for years to come.
Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me) and Adrian Brody (The Pianist) star as Stephen and Bloom, two brothers who have always shared everything. Tossed around from foster home to foster home as boys, they learned that they could only depend on each other. They also learned that they could make a lot of money by conning people. The opening prologue of The Brothers Bloom is an innocent, funny and expertly executed introduction to the boys, finding their calling as con artists and scamming their peers. From the start, Stephen is the planner and Bloom the one who sets the con in motion. We also see that at this early age Bloom longs for a connection with someone other than the brother he loves and admires; he wants to be loved. As Rod Stewart’s version of “I Know I’m Losing You” accompanies the boys’ slow-mo walk out of their latest town, the film titles appear and the story jumps ahead 20 years, when Stephen and Bloom are world renowned for being able to pull off the most elaborate and well-staged cons.
During a huge celebration after a big con (look for cameos by Noah Segan, Nora Zehetner and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the stars of Brick, during this sequence), Bloom expresses his desire to quit the game. He’s burned out; he wants to have a life that hasn’t been planned out by his brother; he wants to fall in love with a woman and have the feelings mean something and not just be part of a role he’s playing. In essence, he wants free will. The brothers argue, and Bloom walks away from his life of crime to live in seclusion in Montenegro.
Not much time passes before Stephen shows up with an offer: One last con and he’ll let Bloom walk away for good. Bloom relents, although you get the idea that his coastal paradise isn’t what he thought it would be; he’s still lonely and he misses his brother. With the help of their silent, explosives expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel), the boys stake out rich, lonely, eccentric heiress, Penelope Stamp, played with charm and innocence by the wonderful Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardner). Stephen’s plan is to have them act as antique dealers and get Penelope to hand them over her massive fortune.
However, the brothers soon learn that nothing with Penelope goes as planned. They think she’ll flee when things get rough, but Penelope instead joins them in their madcap quest to steal an antique book and sell it for millions. Penelope is so dissatisfied with her life she leaves it all behind for a life of intrigue and danger as she gradually falls in love with Bloom.
Johnson’s script is full of so many twists and wonderful turns it would be pointless to try and explain the plot; it would take too long. Instead, let me speak about the marvelous cast that Johnson has assembled for his movie. Mark Ruffalo continues to show that he deserves to be bigger star — he deserves every word of praise he’s been given. Ruffalo is the type of actor who can pull off his roles with a twinkle of mischief in his eye, yet break your heart with a simple look or smile. Brody has been a favorite of mine since he showed up in Barry Levinson’s underrated Liberty Heights, and here, he pulls off the role of romantic lead with great ease. In every film Brody has done, there is always a sadness underneath his eyes that makes his characters more sympathetic; The Brothers Bloom is no exception. Yet he is also able to show his character’s love of life and really convey the love he has for his brother. There are occasions in movies when two actors are asked to play siblings and you don’t buy t for a second. Ruffalo and Brody have a genuine rapport that makes you believe they love each other, making Bloom‘s ending all the more tragic.
As for Rachel Weisz, she continues to thrill me with her versatility and charm. It takes a strong performer to hold their own when acting alongside powerful actors like Ruffalo and Brody, but Weisz is more than up to the task. From About a Boy to The Constant Gardner to The Fountain, Weisz has proven herself to be one of the most interesting actors working. In The Bothers Bloom she seems to be having just as much fun as her character, which makes watching her a delight.
Rian Johnson handles the intricacies of the script and the nuances of his actors like a seasoned veteran instead of a young filmmaker with only one movie under his belt. What amazed me, after watching the tons of deleted scenes, is that Johnson did away with an entire storyline in his movie (involving Russian mobsters) and still made the movie work. Johnson’s first two films have been daring cinematic delights, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.
The DVD (which includes great commentary by Johnson and assorted other great features) is only available to rent. Hopefully it will see a proper release in the near future.