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Ten Words or Less Review: Decent con flick.  Well made but minor.

I’d love to tell you that “The Brothers Bloom” lived up to its divisive hype.  The story goes that at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival “Brothers Bloom” irritated and annoyed viewers by the gross and snottyFrench critics walked out of screenings in droves.  It apparently doesn’t take much to piss off a snotty French critic.  Did it ever?  “The Brothers Bloom” is an enjoyably decent but all around minor movie that seems an odd bird to aim ones ample ire at.  It’s such piffle that to invest copious amounts of negative emotion in it says more about the viewer than the film itself.  It’s the story of two brothers, lifelong grifters, and their new mark, a lifelong flake, and the little adventure they all go on.

Raised by various foster parents over the course of their unorthodox childhood, Stehpen and Bloom, Mark Ruffalo and Adrian Brody, have grown up to become a pair of legendary conmen amongst the denizens of the conmen world.  Their plans take months to lie out and are thought out to the smallest psychological detail by Ruffalo’s Stephen.  But after years of playing the part his brother writes for him, Brody’s Bloom comes to feel he has no identity of his own.  He’s never been anything but what his brother shapes him into and no he’s having an identity crisis.  After leaving his brother to find nothing more than the bottom of a bottle, Bloom gets cajoled into going through one more scam.  Their mark is Penelope, a wealthy loon who’s never experienced the outside world played with bright eyed, vigor by the always adorable and forever watchable Rachael Weisz.  As affection overtakes Bloom and Penelope, she turns Bloom’s already dysfunctional state of mind even more on its head, leaving him more out of sorts than he was when their odyssey begins.  Brody is good at relaying the emotional constipation his character suffers from without making him whiney or one note and Ruffalo excels as usual as the stronger of the two brothers.  Johnson could turn the whole movie around to Ruffalo’s point of view and have created a wildly different, and perhaps more sure footed movie.  As it is the depth of Ruffalo’s character remains unknown until the very end of the story.

“Bloom” was directed and written by Rian Johnson, the much discussed hand behind the cult favorite “Brick.”  Whereas “Brick” was an attempt to meld and mix genres into something new and unseen, “The Brothers Bloom” is comfortable with playing by the conman movie rules in fairly straight forward fashioned.  I would even say he tilts things less than usual which in and of itself is refreshing.  Many a conman/heist flick get wrapped up in their own sense of game playing, caught up in their own cleverness the viewer in turn gets entangled in a guessing game of how the film will trick them one last time.  “Bloom” plays this game to some extent but it plays it fair and with an emotional payoff.  It doesn’t include any one last cheat twist just to take an upper hand on the audience.

“Bloom” has a lot of spiffy style and an unabrasive demeanor.  Johnson uses his beautiful European locations to give his film an old-fashioned, unforced sheen.  It feels like a spiritual cousin to the “Topkapi’s” and “Pink Panther’s” of the 1960’s.  It does develop cracks though in character and story as it amiably skips along.  Johnson seems to cast aside numerous character resolutions because of inconvenience to his story.  He makes it a point to populate his film with notable and skilled character actors, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, but then fails to give their characters any real payoff.  Rachel Weisz’s character also feels superfluous in the final act.  Her arc ends too soon and is left adrift during the finale with no remaining purpose.   As the film progresses Johnson concentrates wholly on the film’s center in Ruffalo and Brody. It’s their story that he’s telling, and more to the point Brody’s, and as the film comes to its resolution, we’re left with the strange sensation that much of what we just went through, though amusing, was somehow unnecessary. 

With “Brothers Bloom” and “Brick” both under his belt, Rian Johnson has established himself as a director to watch for future developments.  He’s not without considerable skill, but I feel he has yet to nail a story down in its entirety.  He’s easily caught up in distractions and attention getting gimmicks that take away from the purpose as a whole.  He’s easy to compare to the likes of Wes Anderson with his quirks and deadpan humor, but not as nearly one dimensional as Mr. Everything’s Symmetrical.


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