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Brothers Bloom, The
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by Eugene Novikov

"It's no "Brick," but then what is?"
4 stars

The most difficult films to write about are good ones that, for whatever reason, nonetheless disappoint you. In the case of THE BROTHERS BLOOM, my expectations were absurdly elevated by the fact that writer-director Rian Johnson's debut film "Brick" is among my very favorites of the decade. I think it's no stretch to call it one of the best first films of all time. And now here's Johnson's follow-up: a con man comedy that's smart, entertaining, clever, even touching -- but not by any measure extraordinary.

What's the right response here? Let me say this: I recommend The Brothers Bloom, and continue to think that Johnson is a mega-talent. In many ways it's unfair to compare Brick, which broke my heart, with this film, which often seeks just to be wistful and funny. I do wish that Johnson's ideas -- and my God, he's full of them -- had come together in a way that was more cohesive, and that left fewer parts of the movie dangling helplessly in the second act. But honest to God, this is a fine film, and a must for anyone interested in con man genre mechanics.

Johnson is not emulating Mamet here. This is not the sort of film that labors to fool you, dramatically unveiling layer after layer of the con. Instead, it's as nonchalant as Steven (Mark Ruffalo), who effortlessly designs perfect confidence games -- "stories" -- for him and his brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) to play out on their unsuspecting marks. By introducing Steven as a brilliant artist, the film excises the expected Mametian side of the genre: we're told straight out that, basically, everything is a con.

And then, interestingly, The Brothers Bloom makes that the primary conflict. It's all a con, and Bloom can't take it anymore. He quits, pining for an "unwritten life." When the persistent Steven ropes him into one last grift, he promptly falls in love with the mark, an eccentric, lonely millionairess named Penelope (Rachel Weisz).

Those who thought that Brick revealed a filmmaker with a great deadpan sense of humor will find their suspicions proved correct here. He has, it turns out, quite a sophisticated comic sensibility, with a flair for background action and running jokes. Johnson sets the tone early, with the lyrical, literally poetic introduction of the brothers as young orphans in a one-horse town, with Steven already writing "stories" for himself and Bloom. Here and in the rest of the first act, the film navigates masterfully between the whimsically amusing and the uproarious, with punchlines that are often funnier for being fleeting and subtle. As the movie settles into a rhythm the jokes get spaced farther apart, but the loose, jazzy tone remains.

That rhythm is my main problem. After the brilliant introductions and before the moving ending, which inverts genre conventions in a way that cements Johnson as a cut above the field, The Brothers Bloom seems too content to go through the motions of the Con. And since we know it's a con, and don't need to waste energy figuring out what's "real" and what's not, the film spends considerable time spinning its wheels. It remains kind of funny but loses momentum, adding flourishes and characters just to bide its time.

One response is: the middle section of the film is necessary to set up the ending, which depends on the Con -- or at least the idea of the Con -- for its effect. That may be true, and the movie may work better on second viewing, once I know where it's going. But the ending isn't the sort of revelatory twist that puts the sagging second act in a whole new light. Rather, Johnson's ultimate insight -- that life, like movies and stories, is more fun when you believe, and get lost in the moment -- is at odds with a lot of his own film.

On the other hand, the ending is affecting and beautifully executed; the movie is funny and smart and a pleasure to watch. The Brothers Bloom doesn't live up to Johnson's debut, true, but few films could. This is hardly a sophomore slump. A movie this engaging, this rigorous, this alive is nothing to complain about.

(Seen at the 2008 Toronto FIlm Festival) (Reprinted from Filmblather.com)

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17371&reviewer=419
originally posted: 09/11/08 14:17:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/06/10 millersxing Self-effacing comedy has charm to spare. 4 stars
10/12/09 Daniel Wadham Best Film of 08 without a doubt 4 stars
7/21/09 Wendy Thompson Moderately awesome yarn, plus Rachel Weisz finally proves she's NOT Catherine Zeta-Jones. 4 stars
7/21/09 Regina George didn't really survive the school bus accident Possibly the 2nd best movie of millenium so far. 4 stars
6/10/09 Ming I like this film ..Its charming and witty...with their con game 3 stars
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  15-May-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Jan-2010


  DVD: 12-Jan-2010

Directed by
  Rian Johnson

Written by
  Rian Johnson

  Rachel Weisz
  Adrien Brody
  Mark Ruffalo
  Robbie Coltrane

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