Monday, June 1, 2009

Catching up with "The Brothers Bloom"

I'd seen trailers for "The Brothers Bloom" for what seems an eternity now, and wondered if the movie would ever come out. It looked delightful, a caper comedy about two con-men brothers who try to dupe a lonely rich girl out of some of her money.

It finally arrived in Indianapolis on Friday (less than 150 screens nationwide), and we caught it on Saturday night in a packed theater at Landmark Keystone Cinemas. It is pretty delightful, an engaging mix of laughs, sadness, expert games of confidence and hats.

I'm a big lover of hats, and own many, though I rarely wear them because it's hard to get away with wearing a hat in 2009 unless you're a character in a movie. Jean commented that it would be difficult for them to avoid getting caught during their many capers, since they stand out so much in a crowd.

Officer: "Did you see anything suspicious?"
Witness: "Well, there was this group of people who for some reason were all wearing 1920s-style bowler hats."

The cast is Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi -- an amazing collection of actors, all known for the diversity and quirkiness of their roles. (Astonishingly, the only one in the foursome who has not earned an Oscar nomination is Ruffalo. Brody and Weisz both have statues.)

Weisz is the real breakout as Penelope, a young heiress who lives alone in her isolated mansion. She's spent nearly her entire life alone, and is socially retarded to the point of barely being able to carry on a conversion. Penelope's chief enterprise is "collecting hobbies" -- she can play myriad musical instruments, speaks several languages, makes pin-hole cameras out of fruit and a thousand other odd, amusing but mostly useless skills. The one thing she can't seem to master is driving -- she crashes her car so often, she has identical yellow Lamborghinis delivered to her house like clockwork.

The brothers Bloom are Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) -- which begs the question of why they're called "The Brothers Bloom," since Bloom is the name of only half the team, and in fact Stephen is the leader and more dominant one. Imagine if "The Brothers Karamozov" were instead known as "The Brothers Dmitri." Whatever.

Stephen's cons are so elaborate that they are less like trickery than novels in which Bloom is the main character. In their minds, it's not so much about how much money you steal, but the grace and skill with which you do it. (They end up taking Penelope to the tune of $1.5 million, which is like spare change to her.) Their most common trick is to have Bloom romance a key woman, but Bloom yearns for a relationship that's not orchestrated by his brother, or preordained to end when the con does.

Soon Bloom and Penelope are engaged in a reluctant little affair. Stephan's last and greatest con -- for Bloom says he's quits after this -- involves revealing to their mark, Penelope, that they are con men. He calculates that Penelope will not be scared off, but see a chance for a romantic new life for herself as part of their gang.

Rounding out the group is Bang Bang (Kikuchi), the funkily-attired muscle who loves to blow things up. As Bloom relates it, Bang Bang just showed up one day and assumed her position within their little criminal organization, and they assume one day she'll disappear just as easily.

Stephan's philosophy is that the perfect con is one in which every party involves gets what he wants. That's not what happens at the end of "The Brothers Bloom," although writer/director Rian Johnson pretends that it is so.

Without revealing too much, it's a little too fatalistic and isn't supported by how the characters acted up till then. I also have to say that I guessed the ending before it happened, which, when you've seen as many movies as me, is bound to happen, but still leaves one lightly dissatisfied.

Still, but for a few flaws, "The Brothers Bloom" is a little gem that's anything but counterfeit.

3 stars

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