Review

The Brothers Bloom

Director    Rian Johnson
Starring    Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi,
Release    15 MAY 2009 (US) 4 JUN 2010 (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars

Chris

7th June 2010

With The Brothers Bloom, writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick) firmly cements his reputation as one of the most original and daring cinematic voices of his generation.

Brick was an audacious and wholly brilliant genre mash-up, presenting a detective yarn that evokes the hard-boiled crime stories of Mike Hammer, and dropping it squarely into a high school that feels like it was ripped right out of a John Hughes movie. The film effortlessly navigated both genres, thanks in large part to Johnson's assured direction, which is especially impressive considering it was his first feature.

That confidence is evident once again in The Brothers Bloom, though this time Johnson forgoes the gimmick in favour of presenting a straightforward tale reminiscent of Wes Anderson films - you could even argue Johnson manages to outdo Anderson at his own game. Like most entries in the modern indie scene, The Brothers Bloom is quirky and precious (not to mention a bit twee at times), but it also manages to be mature, engrossing, and utterly original.

[gallery]Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play the titular siblings, a pair of literate con men who travel around with their selective mute sidekick, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), setting up elaborate schemes to bilk unsuspecting rich folk out of their fortunes. Bloom the younger (Brody) is tired of this vagabond life, and is determined to go straight, but elder brother Stephen (Ruffalo) convinces him to stick around for one last job. Their target this time is Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a lovely and lonely woman who lives in a huge mansion and spends her days collecting hobbies (it's not as lame as it sounds).

Unfortunately, the con doesn't go as planned, as Bloom finds himself falling for the eccentric Penelope, and Stephen learns that their former mentor Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell) has resurfaced and is trying to muscle in on their territory. As events continue to spiral out of the brothers' control, they quickly realise that this job may be beyond even their formidable skills, and it's going to take every ounce of their cunning to pull it off.

Johnson's screenplay presents a complex and labyrinthine story that unfolds in a breezy and fun manner, and the tight direction ensures that the plot is easy to follow, yet it still maintains enough surprises to keep viewers on their toes. Johnson walks a fine line throughout the film, establishing a sense of quirk early on, but never allowing it to veer into obnoxiousness. More importantly, the characters all feel genuine and fully realised in spite of the heightened and highly-stylised sense of reality that surrounds them, and thus the viewer becomes more fully invested in their predicament. Johnson makes sure to keep the film moving at rapid pace, and even the calm scenes are edited in such a way that they feel dynamic.

It helps that the cast is uniformly excellent, delivering powerful performances that bring Johnson's story to life in larger than life manner that is nonetheless totally believable. Adrien Brody serves as the sympathetic heart of the film, playing a character plagued by melancholy and the knowledge that he is slowly but surely losing his identity to the fictions crafted by his brother. The character could easily come off as passive or weak, but Brody manages to keep him likeable, and imbues him with enough of a sense of forward momentum that his arc feels fully satisfying by the end of the film.

Mark Ruffalo demonstrates yet again that he deserves to be considered one of the best actors working today. He portrays the character of Stephen with a mixture of suave cunning, overbearing confidence and a sly sympathy that makes him the kind of character you can't help but loving, even though he'd just as soon steal your wallet while wrapping you in a loving embrace. Rachel Weisz rounds out the cast, imbuing Penelope with an outward sense of adorable naivetť that nonetheless exists alongside a profound intelligence. As with everything else in the film, her character could easily have come off as insufferable, but Weiss manages to keep her firmly on the side of endearing and lovely. It's an excellent performance in a film full of them, and it's a testament to Weisz' abilities that she manages to stand out.

All in all, The Brothers Bloom is a light and fun film that is thoroughly enjoyable, but at the same time is deeply substantive and wholly assured. With only two features under his belt, Rian Johnson has established himself as one of the most unique voices in American cinema, and his films are undoubtedly the result of a very singular and original vision. It would be easy to dismiss The Brothers Bloom as just another entry in the crowded quirky indie film scene, but to do so would be a disservice; the film is very much of that genre, but it also manages to transcend it, and stands as a testament to the genius of a truly brilliant filmmaker.

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