' Cinema Romantico: The Brothers Bloom

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

A crazy affair, "The Brothers Bloom" uses tones and influences like Cameron Crowe employs pop songs. It begins with a monologue that is totally Wes Anderson at his most quirky except that it is narrated by Ricky Jay which also lends it that inevitable Paul Thomas Anderson feel. It then transitions into more heightened Wes Anderson territory while still utilizing quirky Wes Anderson. (The difference? Quirky is Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi in snazzy outfits on a hillside beneath an umbrella drinking Coronas and holding up score cards like judges at an Olympic Diving competition after Adrien Brody purposely plows into a car on a bike. Heightened is Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz dancing to Bolero on an oceanliner.) The third act then transitions into Mamet at his most duplicitious.

It's really frustrating because buried somewhere in here is a wonderful film, specifically a touching, awkward, strange romance. If you will allow me to drop another name, the film also reminds us of Woody Allen and "Annie Hall" since, as we know from cinematic lore, that movie began as murder mystery, an angle which was completely cut to focus on the romance. Perhaps "The Brothers Bloom" should have done the same?

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are brothers, con men from an exceptionally early age. Ruffalo is Stephen, the older one and the one who dreams up and concocts all their complex cons, written as if they were Russian literature - "thematic arcs embedded with symbolism." Brody is referred to as Bloom (why? I'm not sure) and is, of course, the one who seems to be tiring of this double-crossing life. But Stephen pitches him one last con with a mark who comes in the form of a beautiful, reclusive, hobby-collecting millionaire in New Jersey named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). As one would expect, this con involves Bloom falling in love with Penelope which will then lead to the brothers and the third member of their intrepid gang, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), a woman who never talks and makes up for it by being able to blow up just about anything, hauling in significant sums of money while going out in a (fake) blaze of glory.

Ah, but since they are con men and we know they are con men we know that there is far, far more to all of this than meets the eye. Do we know how much more? Does Bloom know how much more? Is Stephen conning his own brother? Is someone conning Stephen? Is the filmmaker conning all of us? Is he conning himself? Do we become sick of the cons?

I love all these actors - especially Ruffalo and Weisz - and they are all good in their roles. Ruffalo gets incredible mileage just from his smile, sincere in a truly sincere way but also sincere in a very I'm-about-to-screw-you-over way. The chemistry between Brody and Weisz is believable. When the movie calms itself down and focuses on this burgeoning relationship it can actually be fairly enjoyable. Penelope's true joy in turning into a con artist is a sight to behold and her willingness to take point in the midst of the con allows for the single greatest use of the overused "air duct escape" in movie history. That was a moment I loved. I was howling with laughter.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson debuted with the noir-in-a-high-school film "Brick" a couple years back and obviously on the strength of that he got more money for his next one and did a lot more with it. "The Brothers Bloom" is ambitious, that's for sure, but while in "Brick" he quoted his obvious influences it all added up to a whole that was distinctly his own. "The Brothers Bloom" feels like a big budget film school exercise where you pick your favorite directors and make homages.

There is a moment when Bloom and Penelope are trotting through the streets of some exotic locale (there are too many for me to recollect) and we can sense they want to take each other's hand and then the camera darts behind some obstacle and so they are out of our vision for just a moment and then the camera finds them again and now they are holding hands and the music swells and they smile and we smile and think, "Hey, that's yours, Rian! No one else's!" And we realize that hasn't happened near enough.

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