CAPSULE: The second film for writer-director Rian Johnson is a pleasantly bizarre story of two international con men trying to con a wealthy and attractive widow. Or are they trying to con each other? In any case, Johnson is trying (and succeeding) to con the audience. The film is fun, but the characters are not well developed. The audience has to be onboard not for the characters but for the twisty ride. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
The most playful crime films are the ones about confidence tricksters. They could be telling a straight story or they could be pulling the wool over the audience's eyes. And the viewer never knows for sure. Some tell their story directly about people in this profession--and they usually are a fascinating subject to write about--and some pull their own hustle on the viewer at the same time they are entertaining. THE BROTHERS BLOOM is about as twisty a con man film as I have seen. It is written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose debut was the creative high school film noir film BRICK.
The Bloom brothers have been fraudsters since they were boys. We see them as young teens pulling a scam on an entire town. This is when the younger of the Blooms (apparently his name is Bloom Bloom, played by Zachary Gordon and later played by Adrien Brody) first associating a really good con game with attracting girls. His older brother Stephen Bloom (played by Max Records and later by Mark Ruffalo) plans the cons and entices Bloom into the scheme. His planning is meticulous with all the steps represented as blocks in a flow chart. The art design picks up the motif of the hand- lettered boxes and uses them as chapter titles for their story. Flash-forward several years and the two brothers are now part of a three-person team. The third person is almost literally a silent partner. She is a Japanese woman with the Chinese name Ying-Ling or Bang-Bang, as she is usually called. Rinko Kikuchi plays Bang- Bang. Their latest mark is Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz of the "Mummy" movies and the excellent THE CONSTANT GARDNER). The two men apparently charm Penelope who seems as ill-fated in finding friends and love as she is driving a car. Bloom is now in his thirties and realizes if he does not get out of the game soon these scams are going to be his whole life. And perhaps he would like to retire with Penelope. Incidentally, it is nice to see Maximilian Schell along in one of his least glamorous roles ever.
The problem with this film is that the people are not characters but plot contrivances. I guess what it means to create a character is to make the character understandable and perhaps just a bit predictable. But Johnson wants to keep his characters enigmatic so the viewer is never really sure what they will do. This means that we cannot believe we understand anyone. A film like THE STING intelligently does not make its plot too convoluted and unpredictable. Consequently its director, George Roy Hill, could develop his characters more than Johnson allowed himself to do in THE BROTHERS BLOOM.
THE BROTHERS BLOOM is as much a game as it is a story film, but then so are most mysteries. The audience climbs onto the convoluted plot and tries to hold on to the storyline. Then Rian Johnson does whatever he can to surprise them and throw them off. Right through to the end and perhaps beyond the audience is not sure who to believe. That makes for an enjoyable ride, but not enough more than that. I rate THE BROTHERS BLOOM a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0844286
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/brothers_bloom/
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper