Actresses Help "Brothers" Bloom
- Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Release Date: May 22, 2009 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some sensuality and brief strong language)
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.
The Brothers Bloom is admirable in showing one character’s quest to free himself of a life of crime, but it falls short in suggesting that romance alone is the answer to Bloom’s problems. The psalmist writes, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain” (119:36), and Proverbs states, “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (28:25). Caper films like this one are to be commended for embracing, even if inadvertently, biblical truths about dissension and selfish gain, but they never dwell on the other aspects of those verses—the call to embrace the rest of God’s guidance for a fulfilling life.
The end result is that caper films, even when enjoyable on the surface, as The Brothers Bloom often is, aren’t fully satisfying. For that, readers need more than a good movie. They need the Good Book.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Smoking/Drinking: Multiple scenes of smoking and drinking, including one in which a woman lights a cigarette with a blow torch; a flask is shared by men and an animal; drinking aboard a train.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain, including “go--amn” and an exclamation of “f--- me” as a woman realizes the extent of physical damage she’s inflicted; some foul language.
- Sex/Nudity: As youths, the brothers are passed from foster family to family after engaging in troubling behavior, including, we are told, the molesting of a cat; a woman writhes and moans on a bed and declares herself “horny”; a woman’s backside is exposed through an open hospital gown; sex between one of the brothers and Penelope is implied; Stephen and Bang Bang appear to live together.
- Violence: A boy is slapped by his foster parents; brothers are both shot multiple times, although these incidents are sometimes staged; discussion of a man who took his eye out with a rapier; reckless driving; a car crashes into a home; car hits a man on a bike; gunshots fired through a door; explosions are detonated more than once; a woman engages in target practice with a firearm; automatic weapon is fired multiple times at an automobile with several passengers in it.
- Crime: The brothers are con men who build their lives on one con after another; in one instance they share profits with a local businessman who benefits from their scheme.
- Religion: One of the young brothers prays at church, with one eye open.
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