Brothers Bloom: Rian Johnson’s Follow-Up to Brick

The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his well-received Sundance indie debut, Brick, is a more ambitious film. but not necessarily a better one.
Made on a larger canvas and bigger budget, the films boasts an-all star cast, including Oscar winners Rachel Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) and Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”) and gifted thespians like Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi.

“Brother Bloom” world premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Fest, in the Special Presentations section, and will be released by Summit in December.

By now, comedies or serio-comedies about brothers have almost become a sub-genre, with Cronenberg¬ís sublime horror “Dead Ringers,” Edward Burns¬í “The Brothers McMullen,” and most recently, Wes Anderson¬ís failed effort, “Darjeeling Limited,” which centered on three brothers, one of whom was played by Adrien Brody.

The other genre that Johnson’s film attaches itself and pays homage to is the globetrotting comedy about the one last great adventure by con men around.

While the comedy exhibits some charm and good acting from all around, “Brothers Bloom” doesn’t contribute much to either genre, because it relies too much on narrative clich?©s, prime among which is the notion of one last spectacular job.

With broad Strokes, Johnson constructs right away a familiar milieu in which deception is an art and appearances have little to do with reality. The film’s two siblings have perfected their craft through years of fraternal teamwork. Now they’ve decided to take on one last spectacular job, luring a beautiful and eccentric heiress into an elaborate plot that will take them around the world.

The Blooms have been co-dependent on each other due to familial and social circumstances. From their childhood, spent in a long series of gloomy foster homes, to their highflying lives as international con artists, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) have shared every aspect of their lives. Stephen brilliantly concocts intricate stories that the brothers then live out. However, like a Steve McQueeen character of the 1960s, he’s still searching for the “perfect” con, the one that will reward “everyone with what they want.”

Meanwhile, for his part, Bloom yearns for an unscripted life, a real, spontaneous adventure, over which he’ll be in control, one not dreamed up or written by his older brother. Even so, eager to retire, Bloom agrees to take part in one last grand scam. He insinuates himself into the life of Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a bored, single New Jersey heiress.

However, as often is the case of such scenarios, the original plan derails as a result of affairs of the heart. When a genuine romance begins to blossom between them, he is reluctant to exploit Penelope naivet?©, though she has already taken the bait. Penelope impulsively joins Bloom, Stephen and their “associate,” a sexy Japanese explosives expert, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi of “Babel” fame), on an ocean liner to Greece.

Convinced she’s happened upon the adventure of her lifetime, Penelope offers to bankroll a million dollar deal. As the quartet makes its way from Athens to Prague to Mexico to St. Petersburg, Penelope quickly becomes addicted to the illicit thrills. But as Stephen’s elaborate web of deceit pulls tighter, Bloom begins to wonder if his brother has not devised the most dangerous con of his life.

Johnson belongs to a group of gifted indie directors who are trying to place a person, original vision on classic or established American genres. Clearly, “Brothers Bloom” owes its existence to such comedy-adventures as the 1973 Oscar-winner “The Sting,” with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and other long tales about professional charmers whose livelihood depends on staying one step ahead of everyone else.

Like “Brick,” “Brothers Bloom” is a meta-narrative, a film that’s as much about a story as about storytelling as a process and the functions that it serves in our everyday lives. The larger than life characters are placed against a sweeping canvas that takes the protagonists to exotic locales around the world, with romantic notions of Europe and raveling in steamer ships and trains across the Atlantic, Hungarian mountainside, Greek ports, gritty alleyways in St. Petersburg, locals that have occupied a place in American collective fantasies, expressed in literature and old movies.

Part of the charm of the essentially good-hearted film rests on Stephen and Bloom’s ability to maintain the sense of humor and fun that defined their play as children, when they began to spin their fantastical tales.

Sporadically, “Brothers Bloom” shows Johnson¬ís own voice and unique vision, with low-key humor and human warmth. But, overall, it¬ës too episodic and feels like an aggregation of eccentric characters in search of a more solid and coherent plot. In the end, the movie doesn’t add up.

Cast

Penelope – Rachel Weisz
Bloom – Adrien Brody
Stephen – Mark Ruffalo
Bang Bang – Rinko Kikuchi
Diamond Dog – Maximilian Schell
Melville – Robbie Coltrane
Narrators: Ricky Jay, Brody.

Credits

A Summit Entertainment release, presented with Endgame Entertainment, of a Ram Bergman production.
Produced by Bergman, James D. Stern.
Executive producers, Wendy Japhet, Douglas E. Hansen.
Co-producer, Tom Karnowski.
Directed, written by Rian Johnson.
Camera: Steve Yedlin.
Editor: Gabriel Wrye.
Music: Nathan Johnson.
Music supervisor: Brian Reitzell.
Production designer: Jim Clay.
Supervising art director: Paul Kirby.
Art director: Jasna Dragovic.
Set decorator: Sophie Newman.
Costume designer: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor.
Sound: Pawel Wdowczak.
Supervising sound editor: Jonathan Miller; re-recording mixers, Jerry Gilbert, Miller.
Visual effects supervisor: Ron Simonson.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 110 Minutes.