Release Date:  May 22, 2009 (limited)
Rating:  PG-13 (for violence, some sensuality and brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  113 min.
Director:  Rian Johnson
Actors:  Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell, Robbie Coltrane, Ricky Jay

If you’re weary of caper movies that make you root for lovable criminals or, after Ocean's Eleven and its two sequels, you’ve simply grown tired of the mind games and double-crosses involved in such stories, then The Brothers Bloom isn’t for you. This tale of two brothers who spend their youth passed from one foster family to another, all the while perfecting their ability to con others, is another example of “root for the criminals” filmmaking.

But, writing as someone who has raised that very concern about more than one film reviewed for Crosswalk, I have to admit that The Brothers Bloom is somewhat enjoyable, thanks to outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi.

Its central character, Bloom (Adrien Brody), wants out of the con game, but his brother, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), keeps pulling him back in. Their next job will be their last, Stephen tells Bloom, but the audience roots for Bloom to stay away from Stephen’s scripted con game. Bloom knows he’s too easily manipulated by his older sibling, and by the brothers’ criminal mentor (Maximilian Schell), who reappears just as Bloom declares his intention to leave his criminal past behind.

A lifetime of playing characters in Stephen’s elaborate con set-ups has left Bloom feeling in need of something honest and real. This despite Stephen’s stated intention to pull off the “perfect con”—one in which everyone involved gets what they want.

The brothers' final target is Penelope Stamp (Weisz), a rich heiress but gentle soul—just the person to remind Bloom of the life he might have apart from the influence of Stephen. Joining Bloom and Stephen in their escapades is Bang Bang (Kikuchi, in a great, nearly silent performance), an explosives expert who speaks softly but carries a large detonator.

Bloom tries to scare Penelope off before she gets drawn in too far to the brothers’ game, but the bored Penelope is fine with being part of the brothers’ scheming—even if it costs her financially and emotionally. Their supposedly final con takes them on a globe-trotting journey, but Bloom’s struggle is within: Can he give up the promise of more ill-gotten riches and choose emotional stability instead?

As with all movies about con men, The Brothers Bloom has a few tricks up its sleeve,  designed to keep the audience off balance. Are the characters being conned, or is the audience being conned? It’s a trick that can be hard to pull off, especially if we don’t care about the characters. In The Brothers Bloom, we do care about Bloom, but his brother Stephen is another matter. He doesn’t appear to have his brother’s best interest at heart.

However, the movie forces us to root for the successful execution of Stephen’s strategy, which is the only path out of the con world for Bloom.

If rooting for a criminal enterprise isn’t enough to make viewers uncomfortable, the methods employed—including multiple scenes of people being shot at close range—are worse. In those moments, The Brothers Bloom becomes the darkest of dark comedies, but the balance between the goofy spirit of the film’s early going and its dark resolution is too much for writer/director Rian Johnson. He’s willing, but not quite able, to pull off the dramatic tonal shifts.