Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: The Brothers Bloom

If there was one important thing to take away from movies in year 2007 was the arrival of one Rian Johnson. He crashed into the scene with a rocket launcher in the form of Brick and it was hard to ignore the tour-de-force that was that film. He breathed new life and boundless energy into a normal whodunnit film and twisted and melded movie genres into this crossfire of intrigue and impossible coolness. Brick was a highly unusual film in that regardless of the conceit, the film was always grounded in the characters. The stylized dialogue may have been hard to take at first, but eventually it washes over you as you focus on the heart of the story that was Brendan's/Joseph Gordon-Levitt struggle with uncovering the truth. Every hit that he took, all the blood that he shed, the confusion and the loneliness that was Brendan's world - we felt it right there with him. It was a holy trinity of amazing direction, casting and writing. So, how do you top such an amazing first go?

Like this:

Well, apparently if you are Rian Johnson, you simply pull out more of that magic stuff from your bag of tricks and spin another tale of intrigue and impossible coolness. Again, much like his debut film, The Brothers Bloom relies on a certain conceit - the hyperreality of a world of con men. Unlike say, Matchstick Men or the Ocean's trilogy, the story's setting, rather exotic actually - Montenegro, Prague, New Jersey, among others, is merely a tool to deliver some of the best written characters in recent film. It could have been set anywhere. So long as we had these characters, it still would have been magic.

Mark Ruffalo's Stephen and Adrien Brody's Bloom are two brothers who make a living out of being con men. Stephen is to put it simply, the brains behind the operations. He calculates and plans the action almost as if he were a playwright constructing little plays where the lead is his brother. This perfectly ties in with his role as the elder of the two, where he guides and protects Bloom through his schemes. Bloom, on the other hand, is the reluctant actor who regardless of his personal disinterest, finds himself following the whims and fancies of Stephen. Even though he hates the job, he loves his brother, and that is always his sole motivation for going along with the con. Together with a silent sidekick, Bang Bang (Rinko Kinkuchi), the boys decide to pull their last con on a rich eccentric lonely woman, Penelope (Rachel Weisz). Bloom ends up falling in love with Penelope which jeopardizes the entire con, but before you expect a Kodak moment-type ending, Johnson throws a monkey wrench into the works.

In the age of recycled story ideas and cliched creations, Johnson's movie is like a tall drink of cold water in the burning desert. Hollywood is suffering from a derth of original ideas. Unless Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson writes something new, it is a backwash of unnecessary sequels, remakes and immaterial productions. Therefore, it is beyond refreshing to find this nugget of a film. Infact, it is this type of rare original film that makes me keep going back for more regardless of the countless turds that I consume (then bitch about) from the Hollywood factory. It's two for two for Mr. Johnson. And for that I commend you.

The casting in this film is impeccable. In fact, the film cannot be if one of the actors were taken out of the equation. The playful and unwielding brotherly affection between Stephen and Bloom is nicely contrasted with the sweet romance simmering between Bloom and Penelope. The central focus of this film is, of course, Bloom and Penelope. Both are characters who have lived a forced-life that they never wanted. So when they eventually fall in love and discover one another, it is a highly delightful visual feast. The chemistry between Brody and Weisz is so believable that I cannot help but smile with glee as their story unfolds. From their very first awkward meeting to their first kiss, as they learn to love and be loved amongst the artifice, there really are no words left but, 'Awwwwww.'

But while all the characters were solid, the story wouldn't quite sell so well if not for the authenticity of the rich eccentric lonely woman. Quirkiness is a difficult thing to balance. Too much and it becomes Phoebe Buffet in Friends. Not enough and it becomes a, "Oh my god. So random" passing character. Rachel Weisz completely owned this. Her underlying eagerness and charm grounded what could have been an overly fantastical movie.
Penelope's enthusiasm adds a depth of sweetness to what is essentially a story about cons and lies. Where there is the conned, there is also the con men. Adrien Brody is so effective at portraying the younger brother who is slowly unveiling his own truth at every turn. The way his cynicism washes off in the presence of Penelope, is enough to make my cold black heart bleed for more. And that I do. Rian Johnson is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new writer/director on the block. I can't wait to see what else he comes up with. Statistically speaking, it looks to be perfection.

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I still don't quite understand how this movie ended up screening in Malaysia. More so because it received a general release as opposed to a more probable arthouse limited release. And especially in light of the school holidays where the public has been deluged with nothing but animated films and Disney-friendly fare. I wasn't around here to know if Brick ever received screening over here. But I dare not question the logic for I am so glad that TGV Cinemas decided to bring it over. This gives me hope that I'll be able to catch Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and 500 Days of Summer eventually. The proper (and legal) way, that is.

1 comment:

eighteeneleven said...

Kazza! I can't believe that you're still alive! This will teach me not to read your other blogs. =D

Also, to stay on topic, how is it that M'sia gets the Brothers Bloom before Australia. =(