The Brothers Bloom

16 Jul

Director: Rian Johnson (2008)

I love a good caper; sometimes it’s just what you need to watch people gallivant around the world on some wild mission, punctuated by a good polka to really illustrate all the caper-ing. But when a film is described as a ‘postmodern caper’ alarm bells begin to ring. I love a good bit of postmodernism but can the two co-exist? Judging by Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, I am afraid to say no.

The Brothers Bloom seemed to have slipped under the radar somewhat which considering the cast is surprising. I came across the film after one of my Mark Ruffalo dreams got me thinking ‘I wonder what the grizzly wonder is up to these days’ and realised he had indeed made a film since Zodiac in 2007 – turns out he had. Whether he should have done is another matter.

No.  I feel I am setting up this film for a fall before I have given it its fair trial.

The Brothers Bloom follows the capers (postmodern capers of course) of two brothers, Stephen and Bloom played by Ruffalo and the adorable Adrian Brody respectively, who have lived a life of trickery and cons since they were children with Stephen ruling the roost. One epiphany later, Bloom realises his brother has essentially been writing their lives and he wants to write his own fortunes for once in his life and promptly escapes to Montenegro. Obviously Stephen finds him and persuades him to complete one last con with him and his Japanese bombshell (quite literally as an explosive expert), BangBang.  After some unnecessary hesitation, Bloom agrees vouching this will officially be his last con.

The mark is the beautiful kook Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz), a millionaire heiress who lives in a house full of trinkets and ridiculous things she has amassed in her years as a recluse and social ineptness. Cue various kooky montages of Weisz demonstrating the many hobbies she has picked up including break dancing, skateboarding, banjo and fire juggling. Obviously. Clearly the first thing one learns when living alone.

The con is that the Bloom’s are posing as antique dealers – or rather antique smugglers. Bringing in Robbie Coltrane as Maximillen, a Belgian hired by Stephen, he persuades Penelope to ‘join’ them as a smuggler to steal an ancient prayer book from a museum in Prague. Of course poor Penelope doesn’t realise it is all staged and ‘persuades’ the Blooms to accompany her on her mission.

It is all just a bit convoluted and I soon found myself less than interested in the exploits of the con. The set up at the beginning with the boys creating elaborate tricks as children were more engaging than this supposed ‘ultimate con’ that would finally draw the curtain on the Bloom’s conning days. I mean blowing up Prague Castle? Really? The story almost redeems itself with the second and truly final con – the ‘perfect con’ – which, like any good con artist I will not divulge too much for anyone who does see the film to do so would rob them of one of the only real surprising moments. I mainly found that the film tried too hard to keep conning the audience, offering us an ending then a self satisfied  ‘tada!! not quite yet finished!’ far too many times to maintain my interest. The script itself is ambitious but perhaps it is this ambition and lofty aspirations to inject some postmodernism into its capers that causes it to fail. The cast themselves are a lovely fit together, particularly Brody and Ruffalo, whose brotherly chemistry seems genuine and perhaps even heartwarming when capturing the pathos of a downtrodden younger brother trapped in the shadow of his cocky, outspoken sibling, dragged along on his escapades. The soundtrack comprised of Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan (good) and what could only really be described as Benny Hill meets the Balkans (not good) which only adds to the bizarre and try-hard stylings of The Brothers Bloom.

Ambitious and full of potential, sadly for me, The Brothers Bloom could have done better. Leave the kooky capers to Mr Anderson.

*Interesting linguistic discovery – the word ‘caper’ originates from the verb which means ‘to leap in a frolicsome way’ and also from the Latin for goat – capriole. And who loves a good frolicking more than goats. And Mark Ruffalo apparently.

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