- 'No, we're not smugglers of rare and beautiful things ... I swear we're musicians posing for our album cover.'
*The Brothers Bloom (PG-13)
Kimball's Twin Peak
I guess it's true that all movies about attractive criminals appeal to the audience's desire to see what it's like to live an unconventional life. But no such movie has found the criminals themselves aching with more yearning for a different life than The Brothers Bloom. And that invests this deliciously clever, convention-busting flick with soul, because it's not just a puzzle about plot — like most con movies — it's a puzzle about personality, potential and perspective.
The Bloom brothers — Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and the younger, simply called Bloom (Adrien Brody) — have been pulling cons since childhood. But they're not about getting rich ... or, not only about getting rich. Their cons are opulent narratives woven with such care that their victims never realize they've been conned, and indeed end up believing they've had the adventure of their lives.
But this has become routine for Bloom. It's no longer unconventional, just tiring. So Stephen, the mastermind, promises this next con will be the last, and they'll go out in style.
Of course, as with every con movie, viewers cannot help but wonder if they're going to be conned, too. But there's a wicked cinematic beauty to The Brothers Bloom: like the brothers' victims, we may never fully realize what's happened. Johnson weaves a sense of time that's timeless and place that's placeless and narrative space that follows no rules but its own. We never know if we're watching a Wes Anderson-esque Looney Tune or a Coen Brothers spike-edged dramedy or a David Mamet swindle-without-the-smug. It's a movie-con put-on, a sweetly self-aware romance and an enormous jape of popular entertainment all at the same time.
The brothers' last target is fabulously wealthy and bored heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). She's magnificently preposterous, an amiably innocent cartoon, a polymath of hobbies who invents stuff to do. She steams off to Europe with the brothers on a quest for a valuable book, and is even more intrigued when she "accidentally" discovers that the brothers are not antiquarians but are "in fact" smugglers of rare and beautiful things.
She's so unbelievable that even Bloom is suspicious that something more is up with this con, but we're way ahead of him. We've been suspicious for a while that Stephen has invented Penelope, or at least chosen her specifically, so that his brother will go off happily into the sunset, instead of in misery over abandoning Stephen. And when Stephen warns Bloom, "Don't fall in love with her," we know that must be his intention. Don't we?
I can't tell you any more, though I haven't spoiled anything. The Brothers Bloom may be almost impossible to spoil — well, I could tell you too much about the brothers' assistant and munitions expert, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), but that would be mean — because even after you know how events play out, you won't be sure at all. Penelope marvels at one point that "a photograph is like a secret about a secret — the more it tells you, the less you know." And that's true of Bloom.
Director Rian Johnson wowed us with his 2005 high school noir Brick, but if that impressive debut was a little wave hello, The Brothers Bloom is a big punch to the arm. Johnson is a major talent, and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.