Blu-Review: The Brothers Bloom

Directed By Rian Johnson
Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi

For a ‘next big thing’ independent filmmaker who bursts out of the gate with a fantastic, inventive and original movie, the sophomore effort is always a tricky hurdle to clear without stumbling. It’s a lesson one-time indie wunderkind Richard Kelly learned all too painfully, having struggled to make a good film since his first feature Donnie Darko. Brick writer/director Rian Johnson’s second film The Brothers Bloom fell into that other pitfall of indie filmmaking – simply not finding its audience; fading away from US theatres mostly unnoticed, it received a practically non-existent cinema release here in the UK before being quickly shuffled out of screens to await a DVD release. It’s a crying shame, too, as his second film only confirms that Rian Johnson is one of the most interesting and talented filmmakers to emerge in recent years and The Brothers Bloom is a cult classic just waiting to be discovered.

Young orphans Stephen and Bloom grew up in poverty, bounced from foster home to foster home, their boyhood mischievousness soon evolving into brotherly conman schemes. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is a natural storyteller, and his devised cons are epic narratives laden with enough densely layered plotting and symbolism to put Dostoyevsky to shame, while Bloom (Adrien Brody) is cripplingly passive and only comes alive when given a role to play. The perfect con is, as Stephen puts it, “one where everyone involved gets just the thing they wanted”; their complex grifts aren’t selfish cash-grabs, but masterful stories that enrich the lives of their marks with adventure or new-found self-enlightenment, even if they unknowingly pay a little cash for the privilege. After decades of grand, jet-setting adventure though, Bloom has grown weary of only living vicariously through characters crafted for him by Stephen, and yearns for an ordinary, unwritten life. He’s roped into one last con, targeting a wealthy, beautiful and eccentric young shut-in named Penelope (Rachel Weisz) who seems perfect for Bloom in every way.

The Brothers Bloom is a different filmic beast entirely to Brick, embracing a joyful tone where that film was dark and noir-themed, but it’s no less beautifully crafted, and shares that film’s timeless, anachronistic alternate reality aesthetic in some respects. Aside from the odd appearance of a yellow Lamborghini or a modern private jet, the film is almost entirely populated with impeccably tailored period suits and exotic, historic locations, while the brothers traverse the globe in lavish steamer ships and sleeper trains and communicate via telegram. It all contributes to the old-fashioned, infectious sense of adventure and lends the jet-setting caper a huge amount of style and quirky character. I’d be remiss in not mentioning Nathan Johnson and the Cinematic Underground’s joyful soundtrack, too, which is utterly sublime and surprisingly beautiful, bringing an added layer of character to the film; ‘Penelope’s Theme’ alone is one of the most astonishingly great samples of film score in the past few years.

The film is enlivened to an even greater degree by virtue of an amazing cast, while Johnson thankfully avoids that post-Wes Anderson indie movie trait of just having characters be a collection of quirky attributes and little more; there’s depth, heart and soul to the characters in The Brothers Bloom. Though Adrien Brody is excellent as always, the nature of Bloom’s role (the conflicted, brooding, melancholy brother searching for a normal life) means that he doesn’t shine quite as brightly as the most lively, larger-than-life characters that surround him. He mostly has the always wonderful Mark Ruffalo to blame, who snatches the film out from under him with the grace of a magician tugging the tablecloth from under a champagne glass pyramid. Playing mostly against type, Ruffalo gets to have insane amounts of infectious fun as the roguish, playful showman with wit and charisma to burn, while the film gets an exponential burst of life whenever he and Rinko Kikuchi’s Bang Bang are on screen. Rachel Weisz is simply luminous – a bubbly dynamo of endearing, loopy charm, with a quiet, lonely, pensive undercurrent that keeps her from being another hollow ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’.

A lot of conman movies lend their focus to the thrill of the grift, resulting in a fun film that’s ultimately a one-and-done viewing experience with no repeat value after we’ve seen behind the curtain and all the twists have been revealed. The Brothers Bloom, however, might pack the requisite twisty cons running through the plot to keep you guessing, but the focus is primarily on the characters and their relationships, resulting in the third act’s revelations and unveilings packing character-driven emotional pay-offs rather than hollow twists. The adventurous caper and abundance of laughs surely give the film its bounce, but it’s the heartfelt nature of the characters that make it truly special. The brotherly relationship at the centre of the film is substantial and surprisingly resonant thanks to some wonderful writing and the chemistry between Brody and Ruffalo, while the romance between Bloom and Penelope is incredibly sweet and far more effective than the average token love story. There’s a tonne of marvellous sight gags, off-hand witty, quotable lines and wonderful minor character moments that reward repeat viewing, too, while every scene with Ruffalo and Kikuchi is an utter goldmine of comedy both broad and subtle.

The amount of twisty ‘Is this is real or a fictional con?’ double-bluffs and the slant of meta self-referential quirk running through the film might irk some people, but anyone without a smile on their face by the end of The Brothers Bloom should probably be checked for a pulse. It’s a film overflowing with assured filmmaking talent and conjures up a cast that are a sheer joy to spend time with. The Brothers Bloom doesn’t need to con the audience to bring two hours of joy to your life – it does it simply by being an overwhelmingly delightful, invigorating film filled with style, laughs and huge amounts of heart.

On the Blu-ray:

In terms of special features, there’s a lot to keep fans of the film entertained. A 20 minute featurette entitled ‘In Bloom’ is a collection of B-roll footage and candid behind-the-scenes clips, showing the prep work and shooting of some of the film’s stunts and scenes. There’s nothing truly revelatory, but it’s gracefully shorn of the standard redundant EPK interview junk, and is a fun little watch, notably revealing that Mark Ruffalo can play a mean harmonica.

A lengthy collection of deleted scenes (with commentary from Rian Johnson) clocks in at a whopping 30 minutes, offering a wealth of cut segments and extended takes. It’s easy to see why much of it was cut – some scenes aim for a weightier, more dramatic tone that’s at odds with the film’s brighter, adventurous demeanour – but there’s great stuff on display even if it doesn’t belong in the film. Sadly though, there’s no option to view the scenes without the commentary, which seems like a huge oversight as dialogue is often impossible to discern through Johnson’s comments. It’s certainly great to hear his opinion, but it’d be just as welcome to view the scenes by themselves.

Also strangely and unfortunately absent is the feature commentary from Johnson and producer Ram Bergman that was included on the US disc, though the UK Blu-ray does get its own exclusive – a lengthy and interesting one-on-one press interview with Johnson that covers ample ground in discussing the film’s thematics, character and production. It’s a shame about the odd choices regarding some of the extras, but with a gorgeous transfer to compliment the film’s beautiful visuals and a selection of lovely, enjoyable special features, it’s a disc well worth picking up.


The Brothers Bloom is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 4th October 2010.
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