11 September, 2011

Review: The Brothers Bloom: The Sum of Its Parts

[Author's Note: This Review has been short listed in the Senior Category of the New Forest Film Festival's New Forest Film Critic of the Year 2011 Competition.]
I. Prologue

Rian Johnson's new movie The Brothers Bloom seems to be answering several obtuse questions:
1. If Wes Anderson did not exist, would it be necessary to invent him?
2. Why did they stop making those new-wave inflected, insouciant caper comedies from the 1960's?
3. Is Mark Ruffalo a great actor, but with zero charisma?
4. When will Rachel Weisz requite my love for her?
5. Can you like something with vague literary pretentions, without being literally vaguely pretentious?

II. The Tale

The Brothers Bloom are conmen - their cons so exquisite that they do not merely dupe the rubes, but provide their victim with a deeply thematic cathartic experience. Con as performance art. Younger brother, Bloom (Adrien Brody) feels trapped by brother Stephen's (Mark Ruffalo) machinations, but is convinced to do one last job, tricking a wealthy recluse Penelope (Rachel Weisz).

III. The Acting

Rachel Weisz starts stilted, sporting a withdrawn, self-conscious demeanor (was she playing Gwyneth Paltrow playing a Royal Tennenbaum?). When her character comes out of her shell, joyful exuberance develops. From then on Rachel can do no wrong. You just want to make her happy, smile that smile with her oh-so-bright eyes. She even made me forget about that other conmen movie she was in. Sigh.

I once thought Mark Ruffalo was stuck in that charisma vacuum which is the epitome of Matthew McConaughey. A stand out in Fincher's Zodiac, I've warmed to him; here he does a great job as the flamboyant svengali. Adrien Brody, stuck with the Pinocchio dilemma, yearning to be real, wisely plays the turmoil under his passivity overshadowed by his brother. Rincho Kikuchi appears as a delightfully Harpo-esque explosives expert.

IV. The Direction

I was impressed with Rian Johnson's debut, the high-school noir, Brick. A film which managed to make Lukas Haas seem menacing. It evoked noir through plot, characters and dialogue, but steered clear of pastiche.

This is a bigger challenge: A rococo concoction. juggling styles - John Irving prologue, comedy heist flicks, Mamet gamesmanship and Fellini exotica along with a breezy patina of misdirection. I found myself charmed and wowed by a series of sight gags, visual ticks, and bits of business, that liberally pepper the opening sequences. Luckily, the style calms down, leaving room for ruminations on storytelling, reflecting the conmen's ambition "to tell a story so well it becomes real".

V. The Verdict

In the wake of other literary affected films, The Brothers Bloom might be secondary post-modern, but for me it pulls off its heady mixture of stylized reality, genuine fakery and smoky mirrors. Sure, it does seem to end a few extra times, but always to payoff earlier foreshadowing in a satisfying manner. If you find this contrived, like the chapter headings in this review, you may want to avoid, but even those who are irked by Wes Anderson will like The Brothers Bloom.

OK, sure, it's a con, but for all that, some of us enjoy being taken in.

[Author's Note: I originally saw the film on 25/06/10 and wrote my first draft shortly after, it then gathered dust until I decided to finish it properly for the competition. At the same time I worked on two other reviews: "Mamma Mia! as directed by Michael Haneke", and "The Last Picture Show as Reviewed By A Critic With an Axe To Grind Over This Gimmick of Black and White". I decided that while these were fun bits of writing, they might be too fanciful for the competition. Competition limitations (500 word max) forced me to tighten up my writing with ruthless self sub editing, which, sadly, the rest of my output lacks, but also made me drop a section discussing the trend in films which self-consciously use literary devices. I hope to post an extended version of that here soon.]

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