I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom”. Even after hearing nothing but positive reviews from trusted colleagues; even after sitting in awe of Johnson’s previous film, “Brick”; even after every piece of advertising made me more excited to see the film, I am stunned at how “The Brothers Bloom” just plain works. While this may sound like a case of a critic refusing to allow for the possibility of disappointment, Johnson isn’t afraid to open up his film from the very first frame and show you how elegantly it all fits together.
The story follows two brothers, Bloom (Adrien Brody) and Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), who have been con artists ever since they were kids and now Bloom is growing tired of the game while Stephen wants to play it forever. For Stephen, the best con is one “where everyone gets what they want,” and the question becomes how the heartbroken Bloom can get something real when his entire life is based on lies. The answer perhaps lies in the eccentric heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz) who Stephen picks as “their last mark”. Of course, as with any good con movie, if you think you know what happens next, you’re being conned.
What “Brick” is to noir, “Brothers Bloom” is to con-artist stories. Johnson is a writer/director who innately understanding the conventions of a genre both in terms of its literary and cinematic origins. The literary part of that equation is important because it lends itself so well to the rhythm, character design, and structure of the work while the cinematic style provides nice visual nods and crafts the style and feel of the film. What Johnson has designed with this movie is a rich, vivacious study of artist to creation, finding truth in lies, and doing it all with such stylistic flourish that even as you’re considering these weighty themes, you’re still having the time of your life.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how everything in this film just works. The cast is amazing and while Brody has the unenviable straight-man role in this line of lunatics, he plays it admirably. However, your attention will always be tuned to either Mark Ruffalo having more fun than in any of his previous films, Rinko Kikuchi as the group’s silent-but-deadly-and-also-painfully-hilarious demolitions expert Bang Bang, or Rachel Weisz giving one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. Weisz is already one of my favorite actresses but she takes a character that seems like it’s going to be nothing but quirk and turns it into a jubilant and joyous performance where even though she’s the mark, she’s having so much fun that you start to think that the brothers may be the one getting conned in this whole scheme. If the film has a flaw, it’s that as it enters the third act it has to push Weisz’ energy to the background simply to tell the story and return to the focus to the dynamic between Stephen and Bloom.
As for Rian Johnson, he has cemented himself as one of the most talented and insightful writer/directors working today. “Brick” was no fluke. It was a warning shot. From the visual motifs, to the rhythm of the dialogue, to the rapid-fire visual gags and one-liners that never leave the dramatic heft of the story behind, “The Brothers Bloom” stands as one of the greatest sophomore efforts of all-time. My biggest fear for Johnson now is just how high he’s raised the bar for himself and whether he can clear it with his next film. Just thinking back to “Bloom”, I’m not too worried.
I want to go on and on about everything I loved in this movie, from Nathan Johnson’s score (Rian’s brother because apparently there is such thing as a “ridiculously talented gene”), to the cinematography, to the editing, to every other aspect presented but instead I’ll just say that while there are a lot of big summer movies currently vying for your attention, you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t seek out “The Brothers Bloom”.
Rating —– A