Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Brothers Bloom


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/20/09 w/ Additional Edits.



Written and directed by Rian Johnson, The Brothers Bloom tells the story of two brothers reuniting for one last con game on a heiress to steal some money. Instead, one of the brothers fall for the heiress who takes part in the con with help from a Japanese explosion artist. A traditional con film of sorts, The Brothers Bloom is more about characters than the actual con as Johnson also chooses to play tricks on everyone including the audience. Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, and narration by Ricky Jay. The Brothers Bloom is a witty, character-driven con film from Rian Johnson and company.

Ever since they were orphans going from house to house, the Bloom brothers in 13-year old Stephen (Max Records) and 10-year old Bloom (Zachary Gordon) were just kids who didn't fit in until Stephen found a way to make a scheme out of the wonderment and innocence of other kids. Therefore, a con was executed as it would be the first of many for the Bloom brothers. 20 years later in Berlin, another successful con was executed as Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), Bloom (Adrien Brody), and their Japanese explosion technician Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi). A party was thrown in the honor of the brothers where a young woman named Rose (Nora Zehetner) tried to flirt with Bloom but Bloom believes it's another con as he could no longer distinguish with what's real and what's a con.

Leaving the con business for good, Bloom disappears to Montenegro where three-months later, he's found by Stephen. Stephen asks him for one last con in New Jersey which involves a rich, eccentric heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). Bloom takes a liking to her as he reluctantly joins the con with Stephen and Bang-Bang. Yet, after a plan to be hit by her car on his bike that went well. It also doesn't go well after Penelope crashes her car near a cliff where she survived. Bloom masquerades as an antique dealer where he befriends Penelope who likes to collect hobbies and do weird things. Bloom reveals that his brother are going to Prague to retrieve an old book as he asks if she would want to go. Bloom isn't sure if she would go but she does in style as she befriends the quiet Bang-Bang while she also meets a mysterious antiques curator (Robbie Coltrane).

While the curator claims that the Bloom brothers are smugglers, Penelope gets excited as they land in Greece on their way to Prague. With an elaborate plan to steal the book, the presence of their old mentor Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell) troubles the Bloom brothers because of an incident where Stephen wounded Dog's left eye. After a con where the curator ends up getting a huge sum of money from Penelope, the Bloom brothers seemed to have succeed but Penelope wants to go for the book. The brothers and Bang-Bang don't believe she could do it but through some improvisation and sweet talk, Penelope succeeds. Bloom and Penelope start to fall for each other as they go to Mexico for their final destination of the con as Bloom becomes unsure if he wants to con Penelope as Stephen realizes that his brother is about to ruin the entire plan. Instead, another con in St. Petersburg occurs that Bloom reluctantly joins in but with some unexpected help.

Con films are often about a plan for a big con and such. Yet, it's always approached with a level of cleverness and wit as it's about the big scheme and such. What makes this film a bit different is the fact that it is more about characters and how they're invested into playing a con with one of them becoming less enthused as he falls for his mark. The first seven-minutes of the film is narrated by Ricky Jay that explores the history of the brothers and how they managed to score their first con scheme. Now that first seven minutes along with aspects of the films in its look might have audiences thinking that writer-director Rian Johnson is channeling the work of Wes Anderson. Well, there's a major difference between Anderson and Johnson in their approach to visuals and storytelling.

Anderson is an artist who shoots films in certain angles and has his own quirks and shooting styles with a look that is very colorful. At the same time, Anderson is known for creating characters that are very eccentric though they're relatable. Yet, part of the flaw with Anderson's films is that sometimes, the characters are eccentric for their own good while Anderson also has a tendency to employ gimmicks whether it's some kind of pop music or the slow-motion edits to end the films. Though it's an interesting style that has worked for Anderson. It often works too well.

Johnson is very different where he doesn't go for that kind of cinematic style. Instead, he's more invested in characters and their flaws. In Bloom, he's the reluctant player who will fake his death for the con and be the guy who will dig deep into a con where he has trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. The Bloom character is a character filled with conflict as he falls for his mark while has a hard time doing the job with his brother. Stephen, is the organizer and brains of the con as he's all about the big payday and not really into the emotional aspects of hurting people. Still, Stephen is just as interesting as Bloom in reveling the idea of the con while being impressed by his mark Penelope for just going along with it.

Penelope is really the heart of the film as she is just a woman looking for some kind of adventure. Living in a house by herself, the arrival of Bloom, Stephen, and Bang-Bang gets her to interact with people she wouldn't have interacted in her dull, lonely life. Money doesn't mean anything to her as her relationship with Bloom becomes more romantic while finding a close friend in Bang-Bang. Though the Bang-Bang character only has a couple of lines, she is truly the film's most quirky and enjoyable character of the film. She is the balance of the three main characters where she is Stephen's close ally while grounding Bloom and being the friend to Penelope.

Johnson's exploration of characters is what makes the film different in its screenplay while he also goes into the organization of the con. While audiences might be baffled by its approach in the deconstruction of the con film. It allows Johnson to be invested in the relationship of the characters and the organization of the con. For the direction of the film itself. Johnson does go for a style that includes hand-drawn drawings of locations and bubbles of the cons to structure the story. Yet, he does it in a subtle way while does give the audience insight into various locations including Prague, Montenegro, and St. Petersburg as it's all shot in Europe.

There's a richness to the location though its not all filled with flashy colors like some of Wes Anderson's films which are very colorful in its set designs and cinematography. Johnson is more engaging into the characters where there's a great shot of Penelope playing cards as her mouth is being reflected through some form of silverware. Johnson's long shots of the locations are very beautiful as it relates to Bloom's state of mind where the compositions and shots are more about what is going on in the con and such. While it's not a perfect film, what Rian Johnson does with his sophomore feature is phenomenal as he is truly becoming a director to keep an eye.

Johnson's regular cinematographer Steve Yedlin does excellent work with the film's camera work with beautiful shots of the locations including sunset shots of the scenes on the sea. Yedlin's best work in the film are scenes in the wood with lights striking towards the woods which is reminiscent of the legendary work that Vittorio Storaro did in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 film Il Conformista. Editor Gabriel Wyre does some fantastic work with the film's editing which is a balance between straightforward transitions, jump-cuts, rhythmic timing, and other stylized transitions including wipes and such to give the film a nice pacing that truly works.

Production designer Jim Clay plus set decorator Sophie Newman and art director Paul Kirby do some very good work in the look of Penelope's home and other objects plus the boat and the party that the Bloom brothers celebrate at Berlin. Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor brings a lot of amazing costumes to the set, notably the clothes that Rinko Kikuchi wear from her fur coat, airplane goggles, and hat while Rachel Weisz manages to look great with a green coat, some shoes, and most of all, the bowler hat that complements the suits the men wear in the film. Sound editor Jonathan Miller does some fantastic work with the film's sound in its location settings, explosions, gun shots, and other things that add to the film's exciting, quirky humor, notably Bang-Bang's love for explosions.

The film's soundtrack supervised by Brian Reitzell features a collection of music including cuts by Cat Stevens and from Nashville Skyline, the song Tell Me That It Isn't True by Bob Dylan that is in a great scene with Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz talking. Yet, it's the score by Rian's cousin Nathan Johnson that is really one of the film's technical highlights. Filled with wonderful arrangements from orchestral, folk, and blues. It plays up to the film's quirky sense of humor as well as its drama with acoustic pieces that are truly memorable and with lots of hook. Whereas Nathan Johnson's score in Brick had a unique feel to the film, his score for this film is just as potent which marks the arrival of fantastic music composer in film.

The casting by Shannon Makhanian is excellent with Esme Tyler as a young girl the young Bloom falls for, Andy Nyman as a man conned in Berlin, and as the young Bloom brothers, Zachary Gordon as the young Bloom and Max Records as the young Stephen, both of whom deliver fantastic performances. Making cameos from the film Brick are Noah Segan as a Duke, Nora Zehetner as a girl trying to flirt with Bloom named Rose, and a one-second cameo from its star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Maximilian Schell is excellent as Diamond Dog, a former mentor wanting to seek some kind of vengeance against the brothers for destroying his left eye while wanting to make deals with them. Robbie Coltrane is great as the curator, a man who knows what the brothers are while trying to be charming towards Penelope as Coltrane does some solid work in his brief appearances.

Stealing the film from practically all of her co-stars is young Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame as the explosive technician Bang-Bang. Though she only has a couple of lines and the performance is mostly silent, Kikuchi steals the show with her quirky sense of humor in making faces, hand gestures, and her ability to do explosives. There's something that is quite adorable about Kikuchi where in every scene she's in, there's something that brings a smile to the face of the viewer as it's truly a role that is extremely memorable. This performance really tops her Oscar-nominated performance in Babel. Mark Ruffalo is brilliant as Stephen, the organizer of the con who tries to get his brother into it while maintaining its integrity and hopes for the pay-day. Ruffalo is a bit understated but also witty as he is also engaging and complex in his emotions in his scenes with Adrien Brody as the two have great banter together.

Rachel Weisz is phenomenal in what is truly the best role of her career. Playing the eccentric heiress Penelope, there's something exciting about her performance as she is someone that does many things. Weisz actually does the skateboarding, rapping, juggling, and all sorts of things while showing depth of a woman who is lonely and in need of some kind of connection. For the famed British actress, this is easily the most accessible and entertaining performance of her career. Adrien Brody is truly in top form as Bloom, the melancholic protagonist in need of change after being in one too many cons. Brody hits all of the right notes while not delving into melodrama while showing that he can also bring humor as it's definitely the most fulfilling performance he gave since his 2002 Oscar-winning performance in Roman Polanski's The Pianist. Brody's chemistry with Weisz is truly engaging as it's based on two people who feel out of place only to realize how they enjoy each other.

While it may not have the atmospheric, dark tone of Brick, The Brothers Bloom is truly a smart, funny, and thrilling film from Rian Johnson. Fans of Brick will rejoice that Johnson can deliver another hit as he is clearly a director that will be one to watch. Fans of con films might be put off by its unconventional approach though will be invested in its emphasis on character study instead of clever plot devices. With top-notch performances from Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi. The Brothers Bloom is definitely a fun, witty con-comedy film from Rian Johnson.

Rian Johnson Films: Brick - Looper

(C) thevoid99 2012

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