The Brothers Bloom: Cons Performed by Pros

It’s much trickier to pull off a good con movie than it is to pull off a good con. Unlike the mark in a con, the audience in a con movie has likely seen your tricks performed elsewhere. The keys to delivering an enjoyable con movie are giving us characters that we care about, witty dialogue that we can be amused by, and a slick style that can make your film stand out from the rest. Rian Johnson, whose first feature Brick was such a wonderful take on the film noir detective film, sidesteps the sophomore slump and executes another familiar genre flawlessly. This movie is so much fun that I shudder to think what was on the minds of the movie execs who released it unceremoniously in the summer and yanked it from its wide release so swiftly– this could have been a hit. Instead, it’s an all too familiar story: one of the best movies of the year and no one saw it.

From infancy, Stephen and Bloom were brothers in and out of various foster homes, always being kicked out for starting some sort of trouble. When they were in grade school, young Stephen (Max Records, so good as Max in Where The Wild Things Are) hatches a scheme to trick kids out of their money. Young Bloom is upset, since it involves tricking a girl that he likes. Still, they pull off their trick, it works, and a life of con games is born. Finally, in adulthood, Bloom (Adrien Brody) convinces Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) that this time, after all the times he’s claimed to be quitting, that he’s finally out. He moves to Montenegro, where Stephen and their silent associate Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) find him months later, to convince him to do one final con before they leave him alone forever. The mark? Penelope (Rachel Weisz), an eccentric epileptic who lives in isolation on a giant estate. Think you know where this is going? Well… you do and you don’t.

Clearly Bloom falls for Penelope, and things go awry in their perfectly planned final con, and you wonder how many of the missteps are actually planned as part of the facade. Being the oh-so-clever movie critic, I attempted to spy where the hints were to a “big final twist” and had my suspicions as I watched. However, two things started happening: 1. Rian Johnson’s dialogue is so lively, witty, and diverting that I noticed I wasn’t paying close attention to where the film was heading, rather instead enjoying where it was at the moment. 2. When the film’s ending did occur, I found what I expected from the film was not what I received… and I was glad for the divergence between the two. What was I expecting? I won’t tell. But rest easy during the film knowing that you’re in self-assured hands. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Stylistically, this film is different than most of the con men movies we see nowadays. The men have to be so suave and the women so manipulative in con films. This stems from David Mamet, king of the modern-day con film, and whose regular contributor Ricky Jay is present for this film as the narrator of the opening tale, told in rhyming couplets to boot. However, these men, while rather suave in their own right, talk and act differently than the con artists you’ve seen. There’s the camaraderie of brotherhood, which truly makes you wonder if these two would try to con each other, or whether their brotherly bond is too strong. There’s also a fear in Bloom that since every real emotion he’s felt has been part of a con, perhaps he doesn’t really know how to feel if Stephen hasn’t written the storyline around it. There’s Bang Bang– she appeared one day and never said a thing, but just started helping them with her nitroglycerine expertise. Bang Bang is a scene stealer, and like all great silent characters, she speaks only once. It’s a memorable moment. Then there’s the fact that, for once in a con film, you have characters where the actual character is really more important than the plot… imagine that! You like the characters not because they’re cool or smart or live life dangerously, but because they are sympathetic, charming, and have very human motivations.

Finally, there’s Rachel Weisz. She’s such a radiant actress, and she has never been better than she is in The Brothers Bloom. Penelope is lovable without getting overburdened by her quirks (a problem oft found in indie films), and Weisz finds absolutely the right line to walk. Unlike the women in all of these films, she has an earnest nature about her, a sunny side, that is utterly infectious. It’s easy to see why Bloom falls for her– you’ve fallen for her after five minutes, so why shouldn’t he? The genius of the performance is she keeps you guessing. What does she know? What does she want? Everything about her is so sincere and so enthusiastic… is she smarter than she seems? It’s a bewitching performance, the best by a leading lady this year.

Actors clearly love working with Rian Johnson. He writes some of the wittiest dialogue in American film today. Visually, his style is top-drawer, full of quick zooms and interesting angles; not one shot is ever wasted. He’s loyal– he uses two of the young actors from Brick in roles here, and you can see Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lukas Haas hanging out in the background in a big bar scene. Every role in his films are important, from the Blooms’ trainer Diamond Dog, played by Oscar-winner Maximillian Schell, to a mysterious fat Belgian man, played by Robbie Coltrane, Hagrid from the Harry Potter films. Just like in Brick, even these parts get two or three scenes where they are the focus and they get to shine. Most importantly, everything works when it’s all put together. He takes a genre like the film noir detective or the con man and succeeds in not only making the film work within the genre, but also making it a standout. These con men aren’t the tough talkers you’re used to from David Mamet or the Ocean’s 11 films. Even when the heat is on, they’re always enjoying their little dance. Stephen says in the film, “The perfect con is one where everyone involved gets just what they wanted.” They seem to be succeeding throughout this film. And through perfect execution of the perfect con, they’ve made as close to a perfect con film I’ve seen in a while.

~ by russellhainline on February 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Brothers Bloom: Cons Performed by Pros”

  1. […] Original Score: 10. Nathan Johnson- The Brothers Bloom 9. Adrian Younge- Black Dynamite 8. Mark Isham- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans 7. […]

  2. […] charming here than she was as the perpetually whiny Claire. Johnson went on to do the wonderful The Brothers Bloom last year… you really should seek out this movie if you’re a Lost fan or […]

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