Director Rian Johnson’s two feature films, the underrated Brick and The Brothers Bloom, (in theatres this weekend) exist in the intersection of quirky and film noir. Brick saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt play a high school loner with a knack for hard boiled dialogue. “I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night; that puts me six up against the lot of you,” he says to a school yard bully, seemingly channeling Raymond Chandler. The Brothers Bloom is just as idiosyncratic but more accessibly so. Starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as the titular Blooms it’s a story of deceit, love and finding the perfect con game.
The film begins with a bravura prologue detailing the rough and tumble upbringing of the orphan Bloom Brothers. Bounced from one foster home to the next—one ex-guardian puts down “larceny” as the reason for sending the kids away—they discover a talent for grifting. Cut to twenty years later. They are now seasoned con men. Steve (Ruffalo) loves the work and creates elaborate Dostefsky-esque plots for their swindles. Bloom (Brody) is less involved. He looks up to his older brother but is having a crisis. He feels he has only ever lived life as a character in his brother’s scams. He wants more—he wants an unwritten life. The classic “let’s get together for one last job” brings them in contact with Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz), an eccentric shut-in with lots of liquid assets, who will change their lives.
The Brothers Bloom is willfully anachronistic. That’s a fancy way of saying quirky. The con artists seem to have stepped out of a 1930s crime movie, both in dress and behavior. The movie is set in modern day, but like Brick, pays homage to the caper films of yesteryear.
The other characters are just as strange. Penelope is a chainsaw juggling femme fatale who lives alone in a giant New Jersey estate. Rinko Kikuchi is Bang Bang, a mostly mute demolitions expert. Robbie Coltrane plays The Curator, a man so mysterious the lights dim whenever he enters a room and Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell) has a crystal dangling where his right eye should be. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a camel who drinks whiskey?
The set-up and execution feel very artificial, but luckily, the characters transcend the script’s quirks to bring the material alive. The first hour of its 109 minute running time is a wild ride, alive with humor, beautiful photography, interesting characters and many twists and turns. The last fifty minutes less so.
In its second half the story gets bogged down with too many cons and an unsatisfying pay-off. The Brothers Bloom is worth a look—the acting is great and it looks beautiful—but it feels more like an under developed Wes Anderson film than a fully realized Rian Johnson movie.