Rian Johnson has been gaining some popularity lately, partly from his recent movie Looper but even more so from directing episodes of Breaking Bad. But before all that, he directed my favorite movie, The Brothers Bloom. In it, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody star as brothers Stephen and Bloom, who grow up jumping from foster home to foster home and make a hobby of getting into trouble.
Stephen is the real con man of the two, while Bloom is shy. He learns confidence from “pretending” his life as Stephen writes it; if Stephen says Bloom is going to be a brooding artist, then Bloom is going to be exactly that — and he does it well. But once the two brothers reach their late 30’s, Bloom is tired. He doesn’t know who he is without Stephen telling him who to be. And so he wants out of the con business. He wants “an unwritten life”… as Stephen puts it.
But Stephen manages to rope him in for one last con. Their mark is Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful eccentric who lives alone in a mansion. Bloom thinks it’s almost too good to be true — that Stephen might be making her up to please him. After all, the best cons are the ones in which everybody gets exactly what they want.
Penelope is lonely, so she takes the opportunity to join Stephen, Bloom, and their silent but very funny companion Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) on a con. It’s a con within a con. And there’s always the question of whether Bloom himself is being conned by Stephen…
I don’t watch a lot of these kinds of movies, but what I love about The Brothers Bloom is that it does succeed in keeping you guessing. Sometimes you think you’re in on the con, and other times you feel you’re being fooled. And without giving anything away, I will say that the ending really is a twist.
The acting in the film is wonderful too. Ruffalo is brilliant as the optimistic schemer, and Brody manages to be romantic and analytical about everything without losing you (or, you know, grating on your nerves or anything). Although she doesn’t have a lot of lines, Kikuchi has perfect comedic timing in a few scenes, and she livens up every scene she’s in. But the real star of the movie for me is Rachel Weisz, who plays a woman with a unique confidence, social awkwardness, and a contagious curiosity about the wider world. Penelope is one of my favorite characters ever.
The more I watch the movie, the more I notice the self-indulgence of it — but I’m mostly okay with that. The Brothers Bloom weaves a tale with several genres meshed together perfectly, and it has a brightness to it that shows up most in its screwball comedy moments. Most movies that try to pack in a lot of meaning end up being too quirky for me (in the case of indie films) or too depressing. But The Brothers Bloom remains colorful and fun to watch throughout, even when it’s making a point of getting you to think.