Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Brothers Bloom

This review is spoiler-free.

I like this movie. I want to buy it on DVD and put it on a rotation of movies I watch whenever I don't know what I want to watch, because they're perfect for any occasion. Other movies on that list are The Truman Show, Minority Report, Tangled, Super 8, and Master and Commander. It's a pretty exclusive group.

I'm surprised I hadn't seen this before now -- it's a rom-com-con! An adventurous romantic con comedy starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz, by the Brick and Looper director Rian Johnson. There's no way to spin those pros to make the film they represent look uninteresting in my eyes.

My second, and current favorite Rian Johnson film.

I saw Brick a few weeks before The Brothers Bloom, (so I was able to appreciate the Brick actors' cameos) and now I just need to see Looper before Star Wars Episode VIII comes out to keep on track with my Rian Johnson movies. I'm loving his writing and directing style, which, while noticeably unique, doesn't seem to be about branding a movie with a particular, trademarked feel or look, but rather is a result of his general understanding of what makes a good movie -- something on which I happen to agree with him.

The Brothers Bloom owes all (okay, most) its goodness to one thing: its script. It was the first thing in the beginning that piqued my interest when I noticed that the entire opening sequence rhymed. Yes, that's right. And it wasn't a dramatic poem or anything, just a narrator, casually giving the pint-sized Brothers some back-story -- some rhyming back-story.

"As far as con men stories go, I think I've heard them all. Of grifters, ropers, faro-fixers, tales drawn long and tall. But if one bears a bookmark in the confidence man's tome. It would be that of Penelope, and of the brothers Bloom."

The Brothers Bloom are Stephen, the older, Mark Ruffalo, and Bloom, the younger, with no first name, Adrien Brody. They are con men, ever since they grew out of being con-children. Stephen is the mastermind of the duo and protective of Bloom, who participates in Stephen's cons like Michael Phelps participates in the Olympics -- like a champ, and star of the show, but for the last time (until next time). Bloom wants to live a life unwritten by his brother, and Stephen wants to give him what he wants... right after the next con.

After the opening rhyme, we are introduced to the adult Brothers, and the script settles into a very straightforward witty comedy -- with a side of off-kilter coo-coo as the Brothers' silent, scene-stealing Japanese assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) casually strolls in, lighting her cigarette with a blowtorch. (Eat your heart out, Wes.) Bloom and Stephen may not be as obviously strange as she, but they have their quirks and complexities aplenty. Stephen makes a fine controlling, but sympathetic older brother, who always gets his way with a smile, and Bloom is a great "vulnerable antihero"; for his brother's stories, and in real-life, whether he realizes it or not.

Guesses as to how Bang Bang got her name? Her motto is, "When you're done with something, blow it up."

The script takes its merry time establishing the Brothers' relationship, defining Bloom as the main character, and revealing his plight -- all evidence to the fact that this script respects and values its characters. Then the plot begins. Oh, but I haven't even mentioned Rachel Weisz yet. Now I have. She, as Penelope, the Brothers' "last" mark, rivals Bang Bang with her idiosyncrasies and quirks, but they never overshadow her charm, or make her aloof. Unsurprisingly, she becomes the romantic interest for our (vulnerable anti-) hero.

The epileptic photographer and the discontented hero.

As you should expect from a con movie, then begins those little nuggets of information that, upon a second viewing (or later in the first if you're quick) you fully realize how they fit into the puzzle. And about the time the plot begins is also about the time that the high-flying high comedy starts to slowly faze out, and in its place comes plot developments, and the more serious matters the characters face. Especially Bloom, who takes everything very seriously, especially falling in love. This transition takes place so slowly that it takes to the climax of the film to be complete, and even then the comedy isn't all gone. However, in the third act, things degrade slightly into confusing, (only slightly, mind) and the film's solid footing begins to slip. In the end it doesn't exactly deliver on what it seemed to promise at the beginning. What it does deliver may not be mind-blowing, but is perfectly right for the story it succeeds. 

All you need to know about these characters' personalities can be gleaned from this one photo.

I want to tell every detail of every hilarious joke, and all the complexities and heart of the plot, explaining why I think this movie is so great, but that would take forever, because it won me over by winning me over and over and over, every new moment impressing me more than the last. I was won at the rhymes. I was won at the appearance of Brody and his bowler. (If there's one thing Adrien Brody is good at, it's acting. If there are two things, it's acting and wearing classy hats.) I was won at Bang Bang's entrance; at Bloom's musical epiphany; when Penelope says it totally is an adventure story, and at every moment she's proven right; plus every moment that made me laugh -- and there were mounds of those. By the end I didn't even need to be won again, but at that point, how in the world could I not be?

"We're all of us marks in our own cons."

I should add that none of the actor's performances were at all bad. Quite the opposite. They all made endearing characters worth cheering for. The filming style was very pleasing, light and crisp, and complemented the humor only slightly more than the drama. The score was absolutely lovely. And though it's set in modern day, it has a mishmash vintage feel going, with grand, unique, results.

I set high importance on those things -- only together do they make this movie hit that sweet spot like it does, but I said it before: it's all owed to that wonderful sturdy base of a script. There's not one dry scene to be found, as if Stephen were its author, since, as Bloom says, "Stephen writes his cons like dead Russians write novels, with thematic arcs, and embedded symbolism..." and stuff. And as Stephen said, "the perfect con is where each one involved gets just the thing they wanted." Well... I don't know if I've been conned, but I did get just the thing I wanted.

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