One of several 2008 releases pushed back to 2009 for financial reasons, including Star Trek, The Soloist, The Road, and Harry Potter 6, The Brothers Bloom sneaks into theaters at perhaps the wrong time: the start of the summer blockbuster season. Well, perhaps the distributors were hoping for a counter-programming audience to show up.
Rian Johnson's fanciful followup to his impressive debut feature Brick has something of a dream cast, with Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as a pair of con artist brothers, a thoroughly charming Rachel Weisz as the oddball heiress they choose to swindle, and Babel's Rinko Kikuchi, once again playing a near-mute, as the brothers' pyrotechnics-loving colleague "Bang Bang".
The quirk may be too much for some, and not a few people will accuse Johnson of aping Wes Anderson's style, but I think Johnson's work is highly idiosyncratic and, though it may be cut from the same cloth as Anderson's, it lacks the better-known director's overdone formalism. Johnson strikes me, in short, as a man who simply loves making movies, and there are many wonderful throwaway moments in The Brothers Bloom, from a shockingly romantic close-up of Brody's thumb slightly tucked under Weisz's sweater sleeve as they shake hands for the first time to a couple of amazing slow-motion shots inside cars that are about to crash. Johnson's obvious joy behind the camera makes up for the film's shortcomings, namely its dimly-defined character motivation and a script that may just be too clever for me but seems to drift a bit, especially in the last act.
"Con game" movies come in two flavors: The first is where the audience is in on the game and gets to revel in its unfolding (The Sting). The second is where the audience itself is fooled for much of the running time (The Usual Suspects, The Prestige). The Brothers Bloom dabbles in both, but there's a sense that the con itself is something of a MacGuffin, and what Johnson is really on about is the nature of storytelling. Here's where it got a little murky for me, and perhaps a second viewing will make it more clear.
While you may or may not find this film's eccentricities a bit too precious, The Brothers Bloom is sure to develop a strong cult following. All in all I found it to be an enjoyable ride, filled with visual sparkle, a jaunty score, notably fine costume design, and nice performances, especially from Weisz, who is adorable. It's not nearly as auspicious as Brick was, but if this is Johnson's "sophomore slump", we can still look forward to some terrific films from him in the future.