The Brothers Bloom
Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi
Writer/director Rian (pronounced like Ryan) Johnson has traded in film noir for adventure caper, and the result cements his rising status in Hollywood. This guy is equally talented with a pen or a camera in his hand, and it's amazing to me that both elements shine so clearly through in his final products. The Brothers Bloom is exactly what many before me have said - it's a demonstration of what Johnson can do with a budget. The film was shot on location in Montenegro and Prague, and is reminscient of In Bruges with its portrayal of medieval skylines and the movie's overall respect for the architechture that inhabits it.
The plot surrounds a pair of con men - Stephen Bloom and his younger brother (who only goes by "Bloom") - who target one last mark before Bloom retires. I realize that sounds like every other con man movie of all time, but let me assure you that this film is anything but. The characterizations separate it from similar films in the genre, and the writing is fantastic. The movie strikes a good balance between humor, fun, drama, familial relations, and romance, but its one flaw (that I've found so far) was that it goes a little too heavy on the romance in the third act and loses a slight bit of lighthearted fun that it exhuded so well in the first two thirds. [I suppose the nature of the story doesn't allow to keep that same level going throughout the whole thing, but the difference felt a little too drastic to me.]
Rian's cousin Nathan, who recorded the score for Brick in his bedroom with one microphone, returns here in full force. Similar to the director, it was impressive what Nathan could conjure with little to no budget and even more so to see what he can do with bigger resources at his disposal. With a boisterous score featuring a full band and tunes that echo classical heist films like The Sting, Nathan Johnson has created melodies of New Orleans jazz bands that fits perfectly with the astmosphere of The Brothers Bloom. A score has to be truly great for me to recommend it (sorry, most of them don't do it for me), but this is one that I'm actually considering purchasing. Listen to Dave Chen conduct an epic interview with Nathan on the Slashfilmcast here.
The acting was great all the way around. Mark Ruffalo was actually an engaging character for once instead of his recent romantic comedy-type good guy. He does really well with this mastermind role, always giving a hint of a smirk to let the audience know he's one step ahead of the game. Adrien Brody, who I've slowly come to admire because of his work in The Village and Peter Jackson's King Kong, played the lonely younger brother with such a combination of sadness and childish enthusiasm that I can't imagine anyone else in that part. [I thought Stephen could have been played by any number of actors, but that shouldn't detract from Ruffalo's performance.] Rachel Weisz played Penelope with that same mixture of sadness and enthusiasm, which makes for some great on screen chemistry between the two. Weisz's Penelope was a joy to watch - an eccentric heiress who "collects hobbies" and is looking for an adventure. And not enough can be said about Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang, the silent partner of the Bloom brothers who plays seamlessly off of Mark Ruffalo. Her comedic timing was perfect, and she did a lot with a role that required very little verbalization.
The film starts out with an inventive introduction of the brothers and their first con, told completely in rhyming verse by the different cast members. You'll know it when you hear it. The writing is so good, in fact, that the movie itself plays out as a con, leading the audience along as if we're part of one of Stephen's elaborate planned schemes. This theory is supported by the wonderfully designed title cards that appear at each step of the con, which also double as scene changes for the film. I apologize for not jumping further into it, but this is one of those movies that you're better off heading into with no preconceived notions.
This was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year so far - I don't know how it'll hold up in my Best of 2009 List when that finally rolls out, but as of right now it's looking like it will be hard to top The Brothers Bloom. Bring it on, 2009 - I dare you to throw something better at me. Until next time...