In screenwriting, it’s kicking in the teeth of the first 10 pages that is crucial in getting your script read and passed on to an actual decision-maker (rather than just some note-taker providing coverage). Writer/Director Rian Johnson clearly understands this maxim as was evident in his remarkable freshman effort Brick and his latest offering The Brothers Bloom. The hook is indeed set quickly in The Brothers Bloom's first 10 minutes through a voice-over in rhyme (by Ricky Jay) as we see the brothers’ troubled foster home beginnings, and how they'd move from town to town trying to figure out the angles. (If you'd like to see it, just click here!) Jay, you might recall, is the skilled veteran of the sleight-of-hand and a David Mamet regular featured in the classic grifter film, House of Games.
It’s this nascent development of their huckster skill-set that the brothers will need to pull off future long-cons. We discover how the brothers become streetwise survivalists, revealed in almost fairytale fashion that has the younger brother (confusingly called Bloom) believing/hoping, even if fleetingly, that their first elaborate “con” against the local kids might just actually prove to be real. The older brother (Stephen) is protector of Bloom secundus and he suffers for it, taking punches meant for his younger brother. Nonetheless, Stephen embraces this sibling call upon his life, viz., acting as buffer against the world and spinner of yarns for Bloom, who is always looking for the real pot o’ gold at the terminus of the long-con rainbow .
(NOTE: The Brothers Bloom had its distribution date pushed back to this past weekend, and has been in the can and making the rounds of the festival circuit since 2008. Usually this sort of start-date push back spells doom for a film, but Summit Entertainment (and Endgame Entertainment) felt that this summer would give the film a bit more room to find an audience; it goes wide next week.)
Fast-forward 20 years, and we find the brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) once again setting up a mark (Rachel Weisz) who is a housebound billionairess and collector of hobbies. The brothers are fresh off several elaborate, Russian-novel-intricate confidence scams elegantly executed. But, Bloom wants out; he wants to finally live an unwritten life after many years of playing a role under the stage direction of writer Stephen. But, will Bloom ever really be free to choose?
And, here's the rub, dear reader: Director Johnson is clearly influenced by Wes Anderson (no crime there), and we see where Johnson has actually out-Andersoned Wes Anderson and lifted liberally from Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic and even Darjeeling Limited. From the production and set-design (graphics and art design), to costumes and music choices (the soundtrack is quite good). From the color choices, to the character story arcs, we see precocious children wise beyond their juvenile delinquent years mapping out events weeks in advance. We see characters in love with and practicing the fiery art of pyrotechnics. There are prop guns and squibs. We even have a character wearing eye goggles, and voyage aboard a ship at sea, all
similar to what a viewer has seen in Wes Anderson films. As a huge Anderson fan, I was okay with this. What really bothered me, though, was that there was no real mystery in this film like a good crime-caper/grifter movie requires. We know where Brothers Bloom is going, except for perhaps one twist at the end. But this plot development arrives too late, like a Christmas present a week after the 25th.
Although the casting is strong, Rachel Weisz is especially good, it just wasn’t enough to make up for a weak 3rd act or lack of it. Ruffalo and Brody are two of the best actors of their generation (sorry for the over used bon mot). Interestingly, Adrien Brody is finding himself the actor-traveler of antiquity. In King Kong he travels by steamer, then by rail on an ancient train in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling, and then again by steamer in Brothers Bloom. The chemistry amongst the three leads is solid, with a fourth especially fun turn by their (silent) partner-in-crime, a mimed performance by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) who provides some much needed comic relief (and the best line of the film) as "BangBang."
I really wanted to like The Brothers Bloom, but it just didn't quite work for me. It's a fine bit of stylized cool with great costumes in worldly cities, if only Mr. Johnson could have focused a bit more on the last 10 pages of his script as he did the first. But, you tell me what you think if you see it!
Here is an interesting article on Slate Magazine that discusses Wes Anderson's influence on Post-WWII America.