The Brothers Bloom

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, and Maximillian Schell. Directed by Rian Johnson.
Rated M (Violence and coarse language). 113 min.

This film is an impressive comedy–drama about crooked siblings that had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2008. It tracks two con artists, the Brothers Bloom, from childhood to adulthood; the brothers fake various exploits through their life mostly to bring them profit. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is master of the trickster art, but his younger brother, Bloom (Adrien Brody) lives resentfully in his shadow. Stephen wants to be a con artist forever, while Bloom is tiring of his trade. They both attempt a major con with a reclusive heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). Stephen senses his brother’s restlessness and poses a con in which the plan is to seduce the crazy heiress, who incongruously is excited by the adventure of it all, and wants to join them on their exploits across different countries through France, Greece, Russia and Mexico. Following them on their adventures are a kinky, mute explosive expert from Japan called Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), a rival partner in crime from Belgium (Robbie Coltrane), and an elderly, sleazy trickster, called Diamond Dog (Maxmillian Schell). Penelope exhibits special skills in helping the brothers execute their fraudulent activities, and she starts to fall in love with Bloom. When their last con goes wrong, Bloom turns his back on crime and runs away with Penelope, leaving Stephen behind. 

The comedy in this film is broad farce with incongruous scenes and situations, and quirky performances all round, especially from Rachel Weisz as the odd-ball heiress. The film mixes adventure and romance in a very irreverent way. The Brothers Bloom travel across the seas by steamship, and use modern technology such as mobile phones en route. The movie is full of absurdities, high adventure, and dark undertones that explore the brother’s rivalry and fondness for each other; and drama is never far away from the comedy that fills the screen. Rian Johnson’s direction is energetic and witty, though our expectancies about a con that is unfolding start to interfere with any intended character development. One is never quite sure of the real relationship between Stephen and Bloom, how far their affection for each other truly goes, and what could be the end result of Bloom’s taking the woman Stephen might really want. Each scene in the movie is filled with detail and the overall concept behind the film is highly imaginative. The tricks the Brothers Bloom and Penelope attempt are extravagant, and the characters in the film clearly are caught up in them. The main thrust of the film, however, is the nature of the relationship between the brothers, but the energy and wonderful quirkiness of Rachel Weisz’s performance distract us a little from it. Although the dialogue for the movie is witty, and the pace of the comedy situations is frenetic, the script starts to leave the story-line behind. The harsh scenes of the reality of Stephen’s seemingly staged demise are diluted by the almost endless possibilities of faking that have gone before.

There is energy about this movie, however, and despite its shortcomings, the film is stylish and very different. It looks for truth in apparent falsehood, forges relationships out of deceptions, and is frequently hilarious. But in aiming for comedy, rather than character development, it tries to please by offering distraction from relationship issues that never get resolved.

The film philosophizes thoughtfully all the time about the differences between semblance and reality, and one is never sure of the dividing line between truth and falsehood. The film is helped very much by some striking and unexpected visual images that serve to maintain a rolling tension. Ultimately, however, the film is a little superficial, though engagingly so, and one wonders at times whether there is a truly affectionate heart beating behind all the tricks and scams.   

Roadshow Films  Out November 12, 2009


Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.