In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Even for all its faults, I still enjoy The Brothers Bloom and think it fills an important spot in Rian Johnson’s increasingly impressive filmography.”
Recently, in my neighbourhood, I saw something that’s all too common these days. A video shop that was closing down. They had a big sign out the front, “4 movies for $10”. I looked in my wallet, saw $30 and decided I wasn’t leaving that shop until I found 12 movies I thought were worth having on my DVD shelf. Some were movies I’d seen before. Some were movies I had a vague idea about and thought would be worth the $2.50 gamble. Some were oddities I’d never even heard of, but they looked interesting enough. So, thank you, Network Video Brunswick West. I never rented anything from you or even had a membership, but I did find some cool, interesting and mysterious things on your almost empty shelves.
“The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat.”
A decade ago, Rian Johnson was an unknown who’s first movie became an indie, underground hit. Setting a hard boiled, 50s noir in a modern day high school was the kind of premise that could have so easily played as a cheap gimmick. But Johnson’s straight faced commitment to the premise, and an awesome lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, resulted in Brick being possibly the best noir movie of the new millennium. Now, Johnson is living the dream of any movie nerd who grew up in the 80s or 90s as he’s busy on set, making the next Star Wars movie. In between, he directed some of the most visually amazing episodes of Breaking Bad, and he made the awesome time travel sci-fi actioner Looper.
But it hasn’t been all accolades and movie geek love. Because I remember being excited about his follow up to Brick, until I heard one bad review after another. I still watched The Brothers Bloom when it was new to DVD and thought the reviews were unfair. But I didn’t love it enough to really think about it again in the years since. But once I saw it on that video shop shelf, I immediately knew I needed to revisit it.
Shuffling from one foster family to the next, Stephen and Bloom discover a knack for the grift. Stephen creates elaborate stories, while Bloom’s sweet innocence is just right for selling those stories to their prospective marks. As adults, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are now the world’s most successful con men, travelling the world and extorting money with their almost mute, Japanese explosives expert, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi). But after their latest score, Bloom decides to retire and tries to disappear.
It only takes a few months for Stephen and Bang Bang to track him down and enlist Bloom for one last job. Penelope (Rachel Weisz) is rich and alone, which makes her the perfect target for Stephen’s latest plan. Convincing her that they are international smugglers, Penelope is immediately caught up in the excitement of their world. The growing attraction between her and Bloom doesn’t hurt either.
Re-watching The Brothers Bloom, I straight away remembered why I liked it the first time. But I also straight away understood why it was kind of dismissed by critics at the time. With Brick, Johnson had made such a unique movie. It was an original movie from an original voice. With The Brothers Bloom, it kind of comes off as Johnson trying to make a Wes Anderson movie.
It’s got that same kind of timeless feel of an Anderson movie. It’s technically set in the modern day, but it’s a slightly heightened version of the modern day where people wear vintage clothing and you might see a rotary phone in the back ground. It’s production designed to within an inch of its life and the quirk factor is turned up to the max. But even with that, I still enjoyed the oh-so-particular look, and found the quirkiness more charming than grating. I guess if you’re gonna ape someone’s style, you could choose a worse influence than Wes Anderson.
Even for all its faults, I still enjoy The Brothers Bloom and think it fills an important spot in Rian Johnson’s increasingly impressive filmography. It was his first movie with big stars in the cast and a studio budget big enough to shoot in exotic locations all over the world. It was also his first movie to come with audience and critic expectations. For all that, I think he delivered the exact movie The Brothers Bloom wanted to be.