In Greece, Judge Patrick Bromley is known as "Blossom." Don't ask. You don't wanna know.
They'd never let the truth come between them.
Writer/director Rian Johnson follows up his 2005 high-school-noir indie hit Brick with a bigger-budget con artist/caper flick that's as much about storytelling as it is about telling a story. Does the boy wonder meet with the same success, or does he fall victim to the sophomore slump?
Facts of the Case
The Brothers Bloom are Stephen (Mark Ruffalo, We Don't Live Here Anymore) and Bloom (Adrien Brody, The Village), con artists since childhood. Having lost his taste for scamming people and longing for a life that isn't some fiction dreamed up his brother, Bloom decides to call it quits—but not before Stephen is able to talk him into one last, great score. Their mark: a hobby-collecting shut-in heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz, Runaway Jury) who's desperate for a new life, a new identity and a new adventure. Along with their accomplice, the silent explosives expert Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel), the gang sets off for Greece for their greatest con yet—that is until Bloom and Penelope begin falling for each other, threatening to bring the whole game down.
The Brothers Bloom is a movie dizzy with the possibilities of storytelling. From its opening moments—a prologue narrated in rhyming verse by the great Ricky Jay—the film announces its intentions: this is not a film that takes place in the "real" world. This is a supremely stylized universe, rich with artifice and the possibilities of creating a life from various fictions. It is not a heavy-handed crime or noir film. It's light and quirky and fun—a caper movie that celebrates the best kind of con: the ones where everyone gets what they want. Writer/director Rian Johnson (whose Brick was also very good, albeit in a different way) isn't afraid to celebrate making a movie, and his giddy enthusiasm comes across in every frame of The Brothers Bloom. Despite its occasionally dark subject matter, this is a joyful movie—one that celebrates love and family and doing what you're good at and the pleasures of a life both written and unwritten. It's a big, beautiful lie.
Despite its caper movie trappings, at the center of The Brothers Bloom is the budding romance between Brody's Bloom and Rachel Weisz's Penelope. It's the right choice; too often, con and caper films end up hollow exercises in tricking the audience, but Johnson understands that all of the deception has to be grounded in relationships. To that end, he gives Weisz and Brody a scene that made my heart swell more than any other this year: Bloom and Penelope are walking side by side in the street. They disappear out of frame for a beat, and when they reemerge they're holding hands for the first time as Nathan Johnson's gorgeous, Jon Brion-esque score (also probably my favorite of the year) swells in just the right way. It's a very simple moment, but it's incredibly sweet and informed to great effect by Weisz's performance as the nerdy-but-giddy Penelope. I love, love, love Rachel Weisz in this movie; she takes a part that's already difficult to play on paper and makes it unique and adorable. She'll no doubt be overlooked come awards season (the movie pretty much came and went without a sound), and that's too bad. It's one of the best performances from an actress who is always good.
In fact, if there's a problem with The Brothers Bloom (and, for the record, there are a few; this is not a perfect movie, which is something I like about it), it's that Weisz is relegated too much to the background during the film's last act. Without giving anything away, there is a point where the film feels like it should be winding down, but it keeps going for another 20 minutes or so and piles on more twists and exposition. Even that might be fine if it didn't all get in the way of the movie's central relationship between Bloom and Penelope, but it does; she suddenly becomes the standard "girlfriend" character while Brody takes the lead, and the soul of the movie is lost a little in the process. Thankfully, Johnson is able to pull it together for by the end and provides a climax that's both moving and satisfying. It's a shame we have to take such a detour to get there, but the getting there is what's important.
Summit Entertainment offers a nice package for The Brothers Bloom on DVD. The film is presented in a nice-looking transfer in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, enhanced for 16x9 playback. Detail is sharp throughout and Johnson's selective use of bright color consistently pops just the way it should. The 5.1 audio track balances the dialogue with Nathan Johnson's gorgeous score perfectly well, and occasionally ramps up for the random explosion or burst of noise.
In the extras department, you'll get a large assortment of deleted scenes; several are amusing, but considering the way that The Brothers Bloom already lags in the last act it's for the best that they were cut out. There's fairly standard "making-of" featurette, which covers the movie's shoot in multiple international locations. There's also a sketch-to-storyboard-to-scene comparison, which traces a few scenes from Johnson's rudimentary drawings to the official storyboards to the finished product. Johnson and producer Ram Bergman sit down for a lively commentary; though Johnson does nearly all of the talking, he proves to be incredibly chatty and energetic and provides a good deal of information and insight into the film. Finally, there's an image gallery consisting of sketches and concept art and stills. The movie's excellent trailer is nowhere to be found, which is a real bummer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, The Brothers Bloom is being released with a rental window and there's no word yet on when the disc will be available to own. Considering the fact that the "rental window" is part of what drove VHS out of business (yes, DVDs were superior in quality, but people also liked being able to pick up a movie they like on the day it came out), I'm not sure it's a good business model to begin repeating.
I typically don't like to draw comparisons between filmmaker and films, but The Brothers Bloom is the kind of movie that deserves to find an audiences. Anyone who enjoys this type of offbeat, literate, highly stylized and show-offy film (the kind that autuers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson are known for) ought to track the movie down. I know I've been saying this a lot lately, but it's another one of my favorites of 2009.
Everyone gets what they want. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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