The Brothers Bloom
The Brothers Bloom is a joyful little movie that glories in the art of storytelling. It's a film that makes very clear that it is a fiction—a spectacularly embellished, bedazzled fiction with little recourse to reality but a huge debt to other stories, other movies, and other myths. Like his first feature, Brick, writer/director Rian Johnson's sophomore effort is a highly stylized, heady film that is deeply influenced by cinematic history and genre storytelling. But whereas Brick was a fast-talking film noir drama set in a contemporary suburban Los Angeles high school, The Brothers Bloom is a lavish caper film that mixes conventions of everything from James Bond to Ocean's 11, all with a stylistic flair and quirky optimism that evokes Wes Anderson. Appropriate given its self-reflexive palette, the film's thematic center is the idea that life and narrative are one and the same—that we are all living out our own stories. We are spinning our own narratives. "There's no such thing as an unwritten life," says one character. "Only a badly written one."
The Brothers Bloom are a pair of con men brothers, who you would think share the last name of "Bloom." But as it turns out, "Bloom" is simply the younger brother's first name (played by Adrien Brody). Older brother is named Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), and he calls all the shots. The film opens with a charming sequence of the brothers as little boys, wearing matching bowler hats and Chaplin-esque white shirts and black coats (their fashion coordination continues throughout the film). As elementary-age swindlers hatching their first elaborate plot to con their classmates out of lunch money, we immediately get a sense of the brothers' relationship and their respective characters. Stephen is a fast-talking sophisticate who mockingly labels his peers "playground bourgeoisies" and draws elaborate flow charts and storyboards for every planned con. He lives his life like a master storyteller, and views his con jobs as stories that he must micromanage for the best dramatic and artistic effect—complete with embedded symbolism, visual puns, literary references and three-act structures. Bloom, on the other hand, is a soft-hearted player in his brother's schemes. He goes along with whatever his brother concocts, but sometimes feels the tension of having his every move and emotion dictated and storyboarded by his big brother. Bloom wants something real. He wants "an unwritten life."
These dynamics remain as the boys turn into adults and their cons become bigger and more dangerous. They are joined by a mysterious Japanese sidekick named Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) who specializes in knives, guns, explosives, and being silent and stylish. Though she never really talks in the film, Kikuchi's Bang Bang is the source of the film's biggest laughs and most memorable visuals (she has a talent for mutilating dolls with guns or plastic explosives).
For the final (supposedly) act of the Bloom Bros' con career, they decide to scam a wealthy New Jersey heiress (Rachel Weisz) named Penelope. The movie is the story of this elaborate scam, which spans the globe (from Athens to Prague to Mexico and St. Petersburg) and involves Penelope (who "collects hobbies" for fun and wrecks Lamborghinis like it's going out of style) becoming a co-conspirator. Things get messy, however, when Bloom falls in love with Penelope, who bewitches him by (among other things) her ability to perform card tricks while saying things like "The trick to not being cheated is to learn how to cheat." Bloom doesn't know if he has it in him to con such a wonderful, likeminded soul out of millions of dollars. A handful of plot twists and unexpected turns ensue, climaxing in a grandiose "is this a story or is this real?" finale appropriately held on a theater stage.