Directed by Rian Johnson. US. 2009.

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Part con-man comedy, part action-adventure, and part serious drama, Rian Johnson’s second feature The Brothers Bloom does not quite come alive in any genre. The film has some recognizable stars such as Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz and contains some beautiful cinematography in exotic locations but never gels into a cohesive, satisfying movie experience. Introducing the brothers as children who have been rejected by thirty eight sets of foster parents, Johnson tells us that the older, more confident and aggressive brother Stephen, began to write stories at an early age, describing schemes for the younger shy and passive Bloom to act out, usually involving getting a girl.

Narrated by magician Ricky Jay, one con involved a prank in which an entire town was duped into dirtying their clothes after striking a deal with a dry cleaner. Another con involved his brother, eager to impress a sweet girl he is too shy to approach, brings the girl and all her friends to what they think is a magic cave. Fast forward twenty five years and the adult brothers are still up to their old tricks – with one wrinkle. The sad and lonely Bloom (Adrien Brody) wants to stop all the cons and discover his authentic self but is persuaded by Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) to do one more trick. Tracking him down in Montenegro, Stephen explains an elaborate scheme involving a wealthy but bored heiress that he hopes will bring the brothers wealth and Bloom the love he needs.

With the assistance of their silent female companion Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they set out to con the hobby-addicted Penelope (Rachel Weisz). In one of the most wildly inventive scenes of the film, a montage depicts all of the hobbies that Penelope has collected: ping-pong, playing a variety of musical instruments including the banjo, singing rap music, break dancing, riding a unicycle and juggling chainsaws. Seeking adventure, Penelope is an easy target for the brother’s plan which involves stealing a rare book, but things becomes complicated when she falls in love with Bloom on a Mediterranean cruise.

As twist follows twist and the action becomes convoluted, new characters are introduced such as a Belgian named Melville (Robbie Coltrane) and the boys’ original mentor Diamond Dog (Maximillian Schell) who is now their nemesis.  Director Rian Johnson explained that his intention with The Brothers Bloom was to twist the genre into something unique and fun, but somewhere along the line the fun disappears, replaced by an awkward self-consciousness. While it is quite a challenge to attempt to figure out what is real and what is a con, the film goes on too long and loses its flow when it attempts to introduce serious drama into what has essentially been a charming, screwball comedy. Although the conclusion has some moments of genuine emotion, in a film that repeatedly promotes the idea that life is a con and that nothing really matters, how can we be expected to care?


Howard Schumann
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