The Brothers Bloom

A complex comedy caper, writes Joe Nawaz

Finally, a year after its US release, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the wonderful Brick makes it to this side of the Atlantic. The delayed European release of The Brothers Bloom is perhaps a touch ironic. In feel and locale, it’s very much a Euro-centric movie.

Stylistically, here Johnson is influenced by movies like 8 ½ and The Conformist. The nouvelle vague look and aesthetic is evident, although this 'con man movie with its heart on its sleeve' owes more than a little debt to comedy-capers like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Paper Moon – a debt which the always-generous Johnson is happy to acknowledge.

The story this time, that of the scam artists Bloom playing one last mark on an eccentric, ditzy but conveniently beautiful heiress (Rachel Weisz), is familiar, warm and fuzzy turf for anybody who enjoys a deceptively complex plot with attractive leads and a heap of old world charm.

Adrien Brody is on typical kicked-puppy form as Bloom the younger, the more sheltered of the titular siblings who wants to break free of elder brother Stephen’s constant scamming and find out who he (literally) really is. Mark Ruffalo’s virtuoso turn as Stephen proves yet again that he’s clearly the most underrated English-speaking actor of his generation.

All the supporting characters have pseudo-surreal tics and idiosyncrasies that let you know we aren’t quite dealing in a recognisable reality here, a highlight being the amusing cameo as an enigmatic – what else? – Belgian by the larger-than-life Robbie Coltrane.

The layered plot is generated as much by Stephen’s elaborately constructed scams within scams as it is by any particular character's motivation. Unlike say, a David Mamet script, the tricksiness here isn’t the driving force or raison d’etre of the plot, rather it’s a fantastical device to examine the nature of reality and the reliability of narrative itself. How terribly post-modern.

Adrien Brody is an actor who increasingly seems to rely on the finely-tuned art of balancing right on the brink of tears without actually doing so. In The Brothers Bloom, he manages to just about brook the waterworks for an hour and 50 minutes, at which point it all gets too much and the tear ducts pour forth their salty bounty. The other lead, Rachel Weisz, is sweetly pretty, can do an American accent and is effectively the brunette Kate Winslet it's OK to like.

In spite of some of the acting - it can be leaden at times - there’s much to enjoy from the opulent cinematography, affectionately contrived set-pieces and well, Mark Ruffalo.

The carefree, travelogue approach to both geographical location and literary references is also fun (in the opening half hour alone we get pointed in the various directions of Joyce, Melville and Dostoevsky) and adds to the charm of a film that, while it does have quite a lot going for it, is more often than not let down by the double burden of questionable lead performance and heinously high expectation.

As a writer and director, Rian Johnson is a rare cinematic talent with a genuinely interesting vision which makes even his failures interesting – that is the saving grace of The Brothers Bloom. He’s well beyond it now though; having done high school film noir and post-modern con caper, his next project is reported to be a time-travelling science-fiction. In the one genre where it doesn’t matter whether the characters are likeable or not, Johnson has a shot at greatness once more.

The Brothers Bloom runs in the QFT from June 1-17.


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