The Brothers Bloom

Rian Johnson is a director who knows his genres, as he first proved four years ago with Brick. There he slammed together two distinct styles – film noir and high school comedy – to great effect, and with The Brothers Bloom, he’s written and directed a deliriously entertaining take on con films. With its deadpan comedy, odd characters and a surprisingly heartfelt conclusion, this feels like a deliberate and refreshing resistance to the slick but soulless glamour of Ocean’s Eleven. Johnson injects the scenes with a joyfully quirky sensibility, and in doing so has produced an oddly stylish and entertaining film.

The film focuses on two brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), skilled con men who decide to take on ‘one last job’, intending to trick Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz), a naïve, lonely but very rich character, out of $2.5 million. Predictably, things don’t go according to plan. Funny how these one last jobs are never as simple as they sound. It’s a risk tackling the con man genre, as these films are utterly reliant on the audience being at least one step behind the filmmaker – the real confidence trick is always on you, the viewer. But having learnt from the likes of The Sting and the Oceans films, the audience is usually experienced enough to catch the filmmaker out. Johnson knows this, and so is not only reliant upon comedic misdirection, but also upon his ability to pull on the audience’s heartstrings.

Indeed, the most impressive and surprising aspect of the film are the emotional relationships that develop between Bloom and Penelope and, more importantly, between the brothers themselves. For Johnson, con films don’t have to be soulless. Particularly impressive is the previously undiscovered comedic talent of Rachel Weisz, who manages to play the banjo, ride a unicycle, juggle, break dance and perform card tricks (though not all at the same time). Although the rest of the cast do well, it is Weisz who carries the film when its abundance of quirk occasionally threatens to capsize the whole venture.

Unfortunately, despite its quality, the film has bombed at the American box office – perhaps due to its initial release in just four cinemas – and as such has taken over a year to be released in the UK. But it was well worth the wait. Here, Johnson is perhaps the ultimate conman, pulling the rug from under the audience with an emotional punch previously unseen in the genre. It seems that, with Brick and now The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson has proved he’s far too talented to be trusted.

Originally published by Cherwell, in print and online, on 05/06/2010.

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