© 2009 Ray Wong
Movies about confidence men and heist are difficult to do well, but that never stops filmmakers to continue to try. Rian Johnson's take is clever but perhaps a bit too clever and quirky.
Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) grow up from foster home to foster home until one day they realize they are very good at concocting stories. They carry out their first con when they are only 13 and 10 respectively. Eventually they become two of the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with lust and intrigue. After so many years, though, Bloom gets tired and he yearns for something real. Stephen promises him they will quit after one last job -- and preferably their best.
The mark is a beautiful but eccentric heiress, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), who is lonely and bored, and doesn't connect with people well at all. Bloom and Stephen, together with their sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) disguise themselves as antique smugglers and promise Penelope the time of her life. Their adventures would take them all over the world. Furthermore, Bloom seduces Penelope and makes her feel romantically alive and exciting. The trouble is, Bloom is falling in love with Penelope for real.
Rachel Weisz (Definitely, Maybe) is a lot fun playing the eccentric heiress who yearns for something more in life but doesn't want to plan anything. She's lively and cute and authentic and she adds a lot of zest the moment she steps on screen. Adrien Brody (The Darjeeling Limited) hasn't done much mainstream films for a while and I think he may be on top something. Brody is the type of intense actors who fare better with independent films. As Bloom, he does "brooding" well and has a good connection with Weisz. Unfortunately, that can't be said about him and Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac). The two don't look or act like brothers to me. Individually, they're both excellent actors, but together they just don't really jell as well.
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) has a mostly speechless role as the quirky sidekick who loves guns and explosives. I think she has one of the most intriguing roles in the entire film, and as Weisz's character said: I want to know her! Unfortunately, she remains only a sidekick throughout the movie. Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter) has a minor role as an accomplice to the Brothers Bloom; he does a good job but a tad too much of a caricature. Maximilian Shell (Deep Impact) has a strange and amusing role as the brothers' one-eyed mentor and nemesis.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick), the screenplay tries to mix quirk with cleverness. The storytelling actually reminds me of In Bruges. However, I think Johnson tries too hard to be quirky and smart. After the interesting prologue, the story seems to be bogged down by twists upon twists to a point it becomes convoluted and confusing. I think the problem is that as audiences, we don't know what is real and what is not, who to trust and what to believe. While the running theme is "a story so well told that it feels real," it's never good to confuse your audience.
Also, the twists seem contrived and forced. While some of them are very clever, I can't help but feel that nothing is organic. It's trying to be too clever and well-orchestrated. Even when things go wrong, there seems to be always a solution. For example, I have no idea how Penelope could get away with being caught stealing a prized book from the museum.
Johnson's strength is in the witty and clever dialogue. His characters are generally likable, if maybe quirky for quirky's sake. That said, the contrived plot leaves many holes to poke through. Granted, Johnson advances the plot quickly enough that we don't have time to ponder the absurdity or implausibility. Furthermore, the production designs seems rather odd. I have a hard time deciding what time period this story is set in -- the costumes and transportation seems old-fashioned, almost fable-like, but once in a while we get a glimpse of modern-day things such as Rap music and breakdancing. Perhaps that's Johnson's intention, to make the film time-irrelevant. Still, once again it's not a good thing to confuse your audiences.
Brothers Bloom may fill a certain niche: high concept action comedy with quirky characters. But Johnson falls short in giving us something that is truly satisfying. And that's abso-blooming-lutely too bad.
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some sensuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.8 out of 10