Released in 2006, Rian Johnson’s Brick took the world by storm. By which of course I mean the underground hipster/geek world. And by storm, it was possibly more like a light drizzle. Nevertheless, many of those that did see that modern take on film noir were completely entranced by it: excited about what its director would do next.
That time has now come in the form of Brothers Bloom, although we in the UK have had to wait a full year since its American release to see it. In fact a quick check at IMDb reveals that countries like Tunisia, Slovakia, Kuwait and Lebanon got to see this film before we did. Worse still, it’s come with no visible marketing, and despite starring oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Adrien Brody was only showing in one cinema in my home city, Edinburgh, on its opening weekend. The audience count at a 4pm showing on a Saturday? Seven.
So, I write this review knowing that if you’re a UK reader, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to see this movie. In fact it’d probably be easier, and just as cheap, to import it on DVD from America.
The film opens with a brilliantly poetic and fantastical flashback scene, which shows The Brothers Bloom as kids carrying out their first heist. Stephen, played by Mark Ruffalo the one pulling the strings; the younger brother Bloom, played by Adrien Brody, playing the lead character in Stephen’s con narrative.
Cut to 25 years later, and having successfully pulled off another con, Bloom wants out. Stephen, rather predictably, convinces him to pull one last scam. The mark? The rich, lonely, idiosyncratic Penelope, played by Rachel Weisz.
So far, so every other con movie you’ve ever seen. However, it’s to the credit of its writer/director, Rian Johnson, that like Brick this manages to transcend the genre it firmly inhabits.
For starters, it lives in the kind of world one associates with the films of Wes Anderson or television’s Bryan Fuller. The opening scene will remind viewers of Fuller’s Pushing Daisies as the narrator describes the Brothers in a manner befitting of a fairy tale.
It also concentrates firmly on character. Unlike most heist movies, where we’re never sure who to trust, Brothers Bloom allows us to connect with both Brody’s Bloom and Weisz’s Penelope.
Both have the same dilemma in the film: who are they? Bloom has played characters in Stephen’s ‘stories’ for so many years he can’t tell what emotions are real and what are not. Penelope has become so lonely and isolated that she is bereft of identity and dreams of having a role to play in a story, regardless of whether it ends well for her ‘character’.
I’d like to think this idea of playing ‘characters’ is one we can all identify with to some extent. The character we ‘play’ at work can be very different to who we are with our friends, who we are with our family. We also choose our own narratives for our day to day lives: rain tells us something bad will happen, finding a penny on the street tells us luck is coming our way. We are constantly inventing and recreating stories for our lives to make sense of the chaos that often exists in them. Bloom represents someone who has literally played roles chosen for him by his brother for his whole life. As a result he is unsure how to do anything else.
Despite being the one who has not allowed Bloom to figure out who he really is, it’s to the film’s credit that we never feel animosity towards his brother Stephen. We get the impression the roles chosen for Bloom fulfil the desires his older brother sees, but Bloom cannot identify. Through out the tale, we’re left wondering how it is Stephen’s ‘last’ story will play out, and how much of what happens Stephen has planned in advance.
Brothers Bloom is not perfect, it’s meandering narrative will not appeal to everyone, since like any good con, it’s difficult to see what the next twist in the tale will be. However, for those willing to go along for the ride, it’s an incredibly stylish, deep film which cements its director as a maker of brilliantly unique genre films. Check it out. If you’re lucky enough to live near a cinema that’s actually picked it up.