Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

Gang of Four

I'm quite the sucker for films with con jobs, or about con-men going about designing elaborate ruses to rip off their mark, and then riding off into the sunset with their ill gotten gains. Films such as Confidence starring Ed Burns (and also Rachel Weisz) and Matchstick Men with Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell never fail to entertain me each time I watch them, and I'd want to add The Brothers Bloom to that list as well.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose only film credit so far is the excellent Brick, with The Brothers Bloom he proves that he's not a one hit hack job, and continues to showcase his very creative, visual eye for beautiful images, and possession of a very keen storytelling sense in elevating a story about 2 con-men into fairy tale proportions.

Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play the titular brothers Stephen and Bloom, who together with mute-by-choice Japanese sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) who’s anything but quiet, take on the world as confidence tricksters, milking the rich for some of their spare change by entering their lives, setting up the game plan, executing it to a tee, then disappearing, more often than not with Death roped in so that they could get away scot free. The prologue is most memorable and stylishly presented, setting the stage in which these two orphan boys would eventually find their calling in the world, and shape their characters.

And characters are what you must credit Johnson with, creating two brothers who are as different as the left and ride lobe of the brain. In Stephen he has crated the mastermind, the brains behind the multi-step con game each so succinctly written as one-liners that they are also used as inter-titles to logically slice the film into chapters. To Stephen, the end will justify any means, and he's quite the stone cold one with genuine affections only for his brother Bloom, looking out for him as they defend themselves from the harsh realities of the world.

In Stephen's con stories does Bloom come alive, being the intimately emphatic actor and becoming the catalyst for the duo’s grand scheme of things. Adrien Brody brings about a lot of sensitivity to the role, being the timid of the brothers, yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life than one which is based on deceit and always a puppet of his brother’s script, manipulated to such an extent that calls for betrayal of trust, and an incident from childhood that forever haunts his memory (that introductory sequence is incredibly sassy too). Undoubtedly it leaves them both with plenty of money, but materialism cannot satisfy the itch for a more meaningful life, and thus his contemplation of quitting, to Stephen’s despair.

The excellent character pieces also extend to the main wildcard in the story, that of Rachel Weisz's Penelope, a rich heiress stuck in her own four walls, spending time collecting hobbies and an innate array of skills, with no plans for the future and just living for the moment. In both Penelope and Bloom, they find an instant connection, being hermits in a cave, and now with each other, finding it all the more worthwhile to emerge from their shells. This story is also of their tale of growing up together and finding common connection, between themselves and the world. It also becomes a romantic movie for a little while, with Penelope’s infectious enthusiasm being rubbed off and onto Bloom, that bit of optimism dousing out the negativity constantly felt by the latter, and get you in the mood to cheer both of them on as well.

One cannot review the film without making mention the production values. Eastern Europe provided much of the picturesque backdrop on which the story got told, jet-setting from one locale to another, while the costumes and suits used in the film, primarily in black and/or white, were simply gorgeously designed, that you'd do a double take at how pretty they look (or is it because the stars have the charisma to carry them off).

The Brothers Bloom is an aesthetically gorgeous movie, and one that shouldn’t be missed for its wonderful cast and tightly woven and witty storyline. In fact I enjoyed it so much, that it ranks amongst my favourites of the year. A pity that it’s only screening at one hall in Singapore, so make it a point to experience a film that’s wildly exceptional from the current crop of stale summer blockbusters.

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