Friday 4 June 2010

The Brothers Bloom review

The Brothers Bloom (12A, 114 mins)
Director: Rian Johnson
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

It looked for a while as though The Brothers Bloom would never see the inside of a UK cinema, having done the festival circuit through 2008 and tanking at the US box office on its release last year. That’s probably because it’s a hard film to pigeonhole and therefore sell, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely charming and better than 99% of what’s currently clogging up our screens.

It’s the story of two brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), who have been conmen since they were young boys, having found their calling when swindling money from their friends.

Stephen likes to construct elaborate long cons to relieve wealthy dupes of their treasures, but Bloom wants out, wanting what he calls an unwritten life away from his brother’s schemes and plans. So Stephen comes up with what he says will be their final mark; Penelope, a mega-rich New Jersey recluse (Rachel Weisz) whom they intend to take for a few million. But the bigger danger is that Bloom may be falling for her.

Though set in the modern day, Stephen and Bloom are an anachronistic, hat-wearing, steamboat-travelling pair, which adds to the breezy romantic allure of the enterprise. Ruffalo and Brody are perfectly cast, the former wry and inscrutable, the latter mopey and lugubrious. But it turns out to be Weisz who steals the show, turning in a captivating, beguiling performance as a woman who has never had any fun in her life and for whom being swept along through exotic European locales is adventure enough.

It’s dry and stylish without indulging in the sort of wilful quirkiness usually associated with the films of Wes Anderson. And if it doesn’t have the zip or panache of an Ocean’s heist, then it’s because writer/director Rian Johnson is not trying to emulate that.

What little concession there is to quirk comes from the casting of Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for Babel, as the brothers’ accomplice Bang Bang, an almost dialogue-free turn that still manages to be funny and pivotal despite its eccentricity.

As should be expected with such films, things are never as they seem, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect the traditional con caper that The Brothers Bloom might appear to be on the surface. It’s a long setup, and we’re never really privy to the particulars of the con, but that’s because its intricacies are not as important as the character development that occurs during it.

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