Written and Directed by Rain Johnson
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, and Rachel Weisz
The Brothers Bloom is the second feature film from writer/director Rain Johnson. With this film and his first film, Brick (2006) he has established that if nothing else he can create his own world within his films. In Brick he took a film noir story and set it in high school. The film worked because he created a world in which that was the reality and there was no other option. The film had all the familiar aspects of a film noir story but took place among, lockers, school plays, freshmen, seniors, parents, and principals.
In Brothers Bloom Johnson has created a world in which quirky is the complete norm. Every child wears all white clothes to Church on Sunday morning. A small town has one of everything from one dry cleaner to one kitten with only one leg. An eccentric millionaire can spend her whole life completely isolated because she had an allergic reaction to the metal needles used to figure out why she had allergies. That same eccentric woman can spend her time collecting hobbies, which means she collects the hobbies that other people do.
As an audience member I had to decide whether or not I would go along with this quirky little world that Johnson created. To be perfectly honest, even as I write this review the jury is still out. I appreciated and respected the commitment that he had and his actors had to this world but I can't tell if I find it engaging or distracting.
The story is about two con men that go by the name The Brothers Bloom. They include the older brother Stephen and the younger who goes by the name Bloom. In the opening sequence we are told (through a narration by great narrator Ricky Jay) that the brothers were orphans that spent their childhood bouncing from foster home to foster home. The brothers eventually end up in a small town (that has one of everything.) It is here that they learn they have the ability to con people out of money. Stephen finds that he is in love with the story that he can tell while conning people. Bloom, who appears to be a very shy and lonely boy, finds that during a con he is able to relate to people and even become their friend. Of course, when their foster parents discover that they are conning the neighborhood kids out of money they are sent off to another foster home.
The opening sequence is only about four minutes long but it is very effective in setting up the story, characters, and theme of the film. It is very heavy on the quirkiness that later defines this film but it is very engaging and almost plays like a fairy tale. I found myself very enchanted by this four minute sequence and if nothing else would recommend the film just for it. The desires of the characters were so obvious that in the case of little Bloom it almost broke my heart. I'm not quite sure why the rest of the film didn't have the same effect on me.
After the opening sequence we are in the present day and the brothers have decided on doing one last score before they go their separate ways. Stephen, always the man with a plan, sets his sights on a rich young millionaire named Penelope. Bloom is reluctant to go along with this plan because A) he is tired of pretending he is somebody he isn't and B) feels bad for Penelope. Eventually, he goes along with the swindle and the story goes from there.
It's a fairly entertaining story and I can't quite put my finger on the reason that I couldn't go along with all the quirkiness. All I have is a working theory that I couldn't get into the film because I felt like they were running a con on me. Please, allow me to explain.
A con man needs to be a fairly charismatic fellow. They need to disarm you with a twinkle in their eye and their flattering words. The whimsical characters and scenes in this film charmed the pants off of me but the whole time I was looking for something more. I kept trying to figure out Johnson's angle and for some reason I didn't quite trust this film.
When it is stripped of all the quirkiness you are left with a fairly standard con man movie. I admire that Johnson added all those things into the film but I never could rest in them. In the end I think he put on a good show and told me a good story but didn't really leave me with anything else.
Still, I could be wrong. As I mentioned before the jury is still out on this film. Maybe I just had my guard up because I didn't quite know how to feel about the film. I am looking forward to watching this film again to see if it will win me over.