On DVD: The Brothers Bloom

“The Brothers Bloom” sounds like a traditional con movie: two talented con men brothers are known for their epic, almost literary cons, when one brother wanting out leads to a concession that the next one, cheating a lonely heiress out of a million or so, will be their last. There’s a bit of the classic con movie “The Sting” as well as “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” mixed in to that. Seems unoriginal, but just you wait.

Rian Johnson has written a non-traditional con flick, one that acts like a quirky modern comedy but is dressed in ’30s period garb and filmed where the world’s architecture and backdrops are most classically stunning: Greece, Prague and Montenegro. It doesn’t make much sense, but it gives “The Brothers Bloom” and its trio of talented actors undeniable class.

Stephen (Ruffalo) is the mastermind who writes his younger brother, Bloom (Brody), into his fantastical stories/cons as the “hero.” Bloom, however, is ready to write his own life — presumably one in which he falls in love for real. Agreeing to one last con, he must fake his feelings for Penelope (Weisz), an epileptic heiress with no social skills. As long as he doesn’t fall in love with her, all should go well. It sounds easy considering Penelope is one strange fish, but it’s not.

There’s nothing too complicated about the plot, which hooks you on trying to discern what’s real vs. what’s part of the con. Johnson keeps it simple so that he can give you what you don’t expect — colorful characters, such as Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi from “Babel”), the brothers’ Japanese assistant with, aptly, an affinity for explosives made of Barbie dolls.

Weisz really gets to have the most fun as a total crackpot. In the period dress along with Weisz’ excellent film resume and our familiarity with the genre, we come to expect her to play some classy woman who won’t be willed easily, but she’s a total nut and Weisz gets to work with this incredible element of surprise.

In a scene in her mansion when she reveals to Bloom she’s basically never left the mansion and is terrible at conversation, she shares that she just checks out books on how to do things, which Johnson follows up with a hysterical montage of Weisz showing off a dozen or so different talents from juggling chainsaws to riding a unicycle — while juggling chainsaws. Another wonderful scene is her first passionate kiss with Bloom — something she’s never experienced before.

Con movies also give you the expectation of a twist, and though Johnson does give us one when it’s all said and done, he also uses that expectation to his advantage, filling the moments that creates with comical flourishes or moments revealing of character.

At the same time, there’s something unsatisfying about the twists of the film. The expectation of being wowed in that regard by con films is something “Bloom” must work against. We want a surprise ending that reveals something about the characters, or at least if the surprise is mild at best, something that is logical and true to the film and its characters. “Bloom” doesn’t fully capture the scope of either. It’s no failure by any means, but it hinges on elements of the story that didn’t seem to be all that important.

If anything, Johnson proves with “Bloom” that he has the chops to deliver something conceptually mainstream (like a con movie) in a unique way. We shall hopefully see much more of him in the future. What we want at the movies is familiarity with a breath of freshness and he gives us just that with his talented cast of characters that defy our expectations in only positive ways.

3.5/5 Stars

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz


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