The Brothers Bloom is the second feature from writer/director Rian Johnson and stars Adrien Brody (Bloom), Mark Ruffalo (Stephen) and Rachel Weisz (Penelope). Stephen and Bloom are con men who decide to carry out an intricate con on the beautiful, wealthy and eccentric Penelope.
Following the success of Rian Johnson’s debut feature, Brick, at Sundance in 2005 (the film won the Special Jury Prize) the film went on to become a great success, especially on DVD. The word of mouth spread about this unique film and hype began to swell around it. I was a little late in seeing the film and had heard a lot about how amazing it was and was worried that it couldn’t live up to the hype. Ten minutes into the film and I was still unsure. The film rested on the conceit that it is Dashiell Hammett relocated to a high school, with all the genre elements that that entails. At first this distanced me greatly and I found myself wondering if this was too contrived but gradually the film sucked me right into the character’s lives and the twisting plot. Slowly I fell in love with the film and it totally charmed me. I went from considering not watching the film to wholeheartedly loving it and recommending it to friends.
I have begun with this recounting of my experience watching Brick as I feel it has a lot of bearing on my thoughts on Johnson’s second feature, The Brothers Bloom, and the reaction it has had from critics. The film is probably a love it or hate it film for a lot of people and I think this rests on this feeling that I had in the first minutes of Brick. Johnson’s filmmaking rest a lot on his films charming you and if you don’t give yourself over to them and get absorbed by them the artifice perhaps becomes too much of the focus. In Brick this can be a real issue as the characters speak in Hammett style dialogue and act in a particularly un-high school like way but once you move past this and fall into the film it is a wonderful experience and one filled with intelligence, wit, and emotion.
Despite not having as much of an obvious conceit as Brick, The Brothers Bloom actually takes this approach even further with its con man plot that plays games with the truth and looks at life from an angle where everything is just a story being laid out in front of you by a skilled storyteller and the deceptive illusion can be as ‘real’ and important as the so called truth. Stephen’s plans that he draws out for the plots of the brother’s cons are intricate storyboards that encompass many players who each have a part to play in his masterful plans and if the con is perfect “everyone involved gets just what they wanted”. Stephen is the writer and director of his own mini films and we get to peek behind the curtain and see the ‘truth’, or as much as Stephen/Johnson is willing to show us. Stephen, of course, therefore comes across as a little too clever for his own good and Johnson could too but ultimately the film is very clever and beautifully delivers in every area.
The direction is beautiful and it is joyous to see a writer/director, who even on just his second feature appears to have such a wonderful grasp of every aspect of filmmaking, not just happy to make a good film but striving to make a great film. The Brothers Bloom has a almost hyper-real sense with the bright colours, outlandish characters and storybook world, but this is part of the deliberate invention, spending time in the film is like stepping into one of Stephen’s intricate cons. The colours are also incredibly important throughout as they imbue the scenes with important symbolic meanings. The light and dark of Penelope and Stephen, for instance, as choices presenting Bloom is carefully structured through the choice of colours and it is this kind of intelligent approach that also makes the film so rewarding upon repeated viewings; there are scenes and moments that I liked the first time around but loved on a second viewing, for their emotional weight but also their wit and intelligence.
As you can probably tell quite clearly, I love The Brothers Bloom and am incredibly happy to finally see it reaching the UK for a deserved theatrical run. The film looks beautiful projected on the big screen and I urge you to go and see it.
If my words haven’t convinced you yet you can hear us discussing the film here and you can also check out the first seven minutes of the film embedded below.