The Brothers Bloom (Lil Devil)


So…this is my first one of these. Big thanks to Monnie for alerting me to his awesome site, and to Mike for bringing me into the fold. Hope you enjoy it.

Con artists have always fascinated cinema. After all, what is the vast audience always ready for in a serious film? The twist ending! (Did you hear the alternate ending to Terminator Salvation? But back to the topic at hand.) One of my favorite directors has a particular interest in confidence games: David Mamet. The famous playwright (“Glengarry Glen Ross”) has a slew of films under both his writing and directing belts, and a good number deal with hustlers: House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, and his most recent, Redbelt.

The Brothers Bloom felt like a very baudy, light-hearted version of one of these films (in particular, House of Games). Think of it as the characters of Matchstick Men traveling the world in The Darjeeling Limited. Indeed, that film also starred Adrien Brody as a brooding, looking-to-escape brother! And yet, there’s a sense that the film’s tone, while seemingly jovial, is hiding a deep sense of seriousness to it.  But that’s the way of the grifter: seem very sure of yourself, but one false move and you face very serious consequences.

Just like Romeo and Juliet, it starts with a poem and ends (for all intents and purposes) with a tragedy.  The other thing these two works share are my affection for the authors.  The Brothers Bloom was penned by Rian Johnson, the man who stormed onto the indie cinema scene with his high school neo-noir Brick starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has a brief, uncredited cameo in this beginning, along two other actors).  I am a HUGE fan of that one and was eagerly looking forward to his next outing. And believe me, this film delivers on a global scale.

Here’s the story: two brothers learn from an early age of living in foster homes that a great way to make the other kids like you was to convey a false sense of confidence. Plus you can make some cash on the side! They grow up to be expert thieves and con artists, due primarily to Stephen’s (Mark Ruffalo) ingenious planning and calculation of their mark’s every move. His younger brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) goes along with it, each time wishing he could simply be a “real person” and fall in love.  Stephen talks him into one last job that will set them up for life: a rich heiress (Rachel Weisz) who, in her boredom, has mastered several different skills that include skateboarding, juggling, break dancing and several musical instruments.  You can guess what happens next; then again, you can’t, and that’s the beauty of it.

As far as the cast goes, everyone does a great job at making such a difficult yet well-written script appear natural and funny. Brody (who won an Oscar for having the bajeezus kicked out of him in The Pianist) and Ruffalo (the detective in Zodiac) convey a feeling of sincere sibling chemistry, complete with the knowledge that sometimes a brother thinks he’s looking out for you, but is only looking for a good time.  Rinko Kikuchi (the girl Oscar nominated for playing a deaf-mute chick in Babel) steals numerous scenes as Bang Bang, their mute, pyromaniac accomplice. Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in Harry Potter) and Maximillian Schell (Oscar winner for Judgment at Nuremburg) also lend fine support. Weisz (also winning an Oscar for being abused in The Constant Gardener) is the only one who occassionally falls flat, with her character missing potential jokes and seeming at times an erotomaniac and other times emotionally, if not mentally, retarded. But her fellow actors more than pick up her slack; they manage to get the audience so involved in the story that, like a mark, we forget about the possibility of being conned and just enjoy the show.

All in all, I’d give the film 4 pitchforks for combining Wes Anderson’s humor with David Mamet’s devotion to the confidence game, while adding an excellent cast and Rian Johnson’s own unique creativity in writing and direction.

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Posted on June 28, 2009, in Film Review, Lil Devil and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Mike Pampinella

    Great review Spencer. Lil is the new big after all 😉

    I had this on my top five must see list for the summer, but I still haven’t seen it. Your review makes me want to see it all the more.

    And I agree about Rian Johnson. Brick was amazing, so it stands to reason that The Brothers Bloom would follow suit. Of course not everyone’s sophomore attempts succeed (as seen with the Transformer sequel).

  2. Nice review Spencer.
    I like Ruffalo’s work and after talking to Mike, then reading your review, I want to check this movie out now.

  3. Katie Ledwidge

    Beautifully written Spence.

    I love the allusion to Romeo and Juliet, and I agree completely about the global scale and the uniqueness of the humor, not to mention the chemistry of Stephen and Bloom. Basically, this review rocked my socks.

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