The Brothers Bloom is a clever, funny, ironic, romantic and wildly idiosyncratic low-budget indie that will stand proudly with its high-budget competitors as one of the best movies of the year. It’s written with intelligence, directed with panache, acted with believability and costumed with unique flair. Although it’s the story of two brothers, the women co-stars steal the show and prove how fascinating on-screen gender equality can be.
Like all art pieces, a good movie reveals its telling details sparingly. You have give The Brothers Bloom your keen attention, to luxuriate in its layers of visual and verbal dexterity so you don’t miss its hidden messages. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with the pleasure of watching how all the diverse pieces fit together, and the ending, although troubling, will be seen as satisfyingly inevitable.
The Bloom brothers compose a notorious con artist team, successfully stealing millions of dollars in elaborate hoaxes all throughout Europe. As children, they already had a talent for helping to part unsuspecting kids from their money and a series of foster parents didn’t seem to put a dent in their natural criminal tendencies. They polished their larcenous skills at the knee of their Fagan-like teacher, nasty Diamond Dog (Maximillian Schell, German TV’s Der Furst und das Mandchen).
Older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac) who promised that he would always take care of his younger brother is the master mind of their criminal duo. In a more nurturing environment, he might have become a brilliant playwright. As it is, he turns his literary yearnings toward writing elaborate criminal schemes that star his younger brother, known as Bloom (Adrian Brody, The Darjeeling Limited) Bloom is a dreamy romantic and hates himself for stealing other people’s money. When we meet him as an adult, he has grown weary of playing roles in a fantasy. “I want to live an unscripted life,” he wails. He gives up the life of a con artist and escapes to a hideaway.
But Stephen finds Bloom and convinces him to do one last con. He reminds Bloom that “in the best con everybody gets exactly what they need.” Accompanying Stephen now is his enigmatic sidekick, a Japanese hottie named Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel), who says little but loves carrying big sticks of dynamite. Nitroglycerine is her thing and a pair of snazzy red leather gloves that matches her lipstick is her signature.
The proposed victim, or mark, of the con game is Penelope (Rachel Weisz, My Blueberry Nights), a lonely, 30-something orphaned neurotic New Jersey heiress. Penelope lives by herself in a mansion as big as an apartment building. She smashes up her yellow Lamborghini so often there’s a standing order for replacements at the local dealer. Not suited for a job or a relationship or any thing like a normal course of life, Penelope’s full time occupation is acquiring hobbies. Among other things she’s an expert at street dancing, skateboarding, somersaulting, juggling, playing the banjo and making cameras out of watermelons.
Stephen stages a car accident whereby Penelope nearly runs over Bloom on a bicycle. A great way to meet, of course, and within moments, Bloom is as enchanted with Penelope as everyone in the audience is–this certainly is Rachel Weisz’ most impressive and personal. But a con artist is not supposed to fall in love with his intended victim. As their relationship blooms, Bloom is torn. Has Stephen planned this hoax deliberately to get Bloom to fall in love for real? “The day I con you,” Stephen tells his brother, “is the day I die.”
What the brothers hadn’t counted on was that Penelope, ferociously eager for escape from her prison-mansion, never seems to be aware that she is the mark. She blithely goes along with the brothers’ capers, in fact she becomes a willing partner. She and Bang Bang become fast friends and Bloom gets cuter every day, especially after they figure out how to kiss one another without Bloom’s substantial nose getting in the way.
The con is so elaborate it would be ruined by explaining it. Let’s just say it involves an ancient bejeweled volume hidden away in a museum that needs to be stolen and sold to a greedy Argentinean, who may or may not exist. There’s a curator who’s not a curator, played with great wicked relish by Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
And in a scene that makes the whole movie memorable, Maximillian Schell as Dirty Dog re-enters the brothers’ life, wearing the eyepatch that became necessary after Stephen had put a rapier through his eye. Hatred runs deep among these three men, nevertheless Stephen involves Dirty Dog in the scheme, which, as the movie goes on, gets more and more complicated and travels throughout Europe over land and sea all the way to Mexico.
One of the most delicious aspects of The Brothers Bloom is its sense of wandering timelessness. You know it takes place in modern day. The flashy sports cars confirm that. But so much of the movie also looks anachronistic…railroads, steamers, ancient cities. And the clothes seem to come from decades past–bowler hats, flowing coats, gloves and mufflers–the conscious accessories of people who are at home only in a tale of their own telling. (Kudos to Hungarian costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, who also did the costumes on one of my all-time favorite movies, the underrated sci-fi stunner, Aeon Flux.)
Shot largely in the overcast weather of eastern Europe, The Brothers Bloom disdains the sunny, cloudless skies of the typical L.A.-based blockbuster, which usually drenches the screen in Technicolor Crayola. The mood of Bloom is more like the illustrations in an old children’s book, as if the movie is a fairy tale dredged up from childhood, but remembered with a wash of darker realities.
What’s amazing is that this wonderful film was directed and written by a young man who’s done only one other movie before. This is 36-year-old American Rian Johnson, whose previous film Brick was a noir teenage crime movie.
The path of love, especially when it’s complicated by criminal intentions, never runs smooth. Bloom and Penelope separate. Bloom swears he loves Penelope too much to allow her to love him and he hides away again. But Penelope not only loves Bloom, but has gotten the crime bug, and, as Stephen knew she would, Penelope tracks Bloom down and refuses to leave him.
The ending…ah, the complex, confounding ending. Is it sad or gloriously appropriate? Is it the end of the con? Or just another scene of it? Is the movie a love story about Bloom and his enchanting Penelope or about Bloom and his conspiratorial brother Stephen? Is there a victim in this crime? Or does everyone in the con get exactly what they need?
The Brothers Bloom is showing exclusively at the newly renovated Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Road (the old Hollywood Regal). The theatre is also presenting the director’s first film, Brick. We applaud such courageous, artful decisions and wish the Carolina Cinemas the best of luck.