The Brothers Bloom came recommended. Most folks like to watch films where someone deserving gets royally fleeced by skilled con-men. Immediately, The Sting, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels come to mind. You know half the fun of a con film is that in most cases, we members of the audience get tricked as well.
We start off with a pair of brothers, kids actually, and they’re already doing cons on other neighborhood kids. There’s Stephen and there’s Bloom – no last names are offered. So early on, we’re shown that this is their nature. If they are jr conmen at this age, there’s no doubt that this will be their future. In fact, they do grow up and become serious con artists – only as adults they play for far greater stakes than the local kids’ lunch money.
We fast forward what looks like 25-30 years and both are now adults – Bloom is played by Adrien Brody, and Stephen is played by Mark Ruffalo. For some reason they dress in black suits, with white shirts, and black hats. Though they don’t act in any way that defines them, nor do they wear yarmulkes, or have the curly peyes which are long, uncut sideburns, they look almost like Hasidim. I don’t think they are but it sure seems like we are supposed to think along those lines.
In due course we find out that they’re very successful conmen. But Brody’s character is tired of their life – he wants out. Stephen says – we do one more, and then we’ll be set. The mark is a single and very eccentric woman worth millions even by a conservative estimate. They’re going to con her into buying a supposed religious artifact.
Robert Loggia (as the Miami drug baron Frank Gomez) said to Al Pacino (as Tony Montana) in the 1983 film Scarface – Don’t get high on your own supply. In The Brothers Bloom, Stephen says to Bloom – Don’t fall in love with mark. It’s really the same advice. You know – keep work and play separate. Of course, no sooner does Stephen say these words, then we pretty much know that this exactly where the film will go from that point.
Of course, there are twists and turns, and surprises for both the mark, and the conmen, as well as for us. It wouldn’t be a con film otherwise, now would it?
Of course the mark, Penelope, isn’t your standard mark either. She’s played marvelously by Rachel Weisz, as a kind of loopy, not quite all there, woman. She may have the money, but she loves the play. Weisz, aside from looking marvelous, and wearing some intriguing clothes, also steals the film away from all the male actors.
Also around to offer their more than considerable assistance are a number of very worthy supporting players. Rinko Kikuchi who is Stephen’s love interest – although that part is pretty much off-screen. We see her onscreen as the resident munitions expert. As well as the resident Mute.
Robbie Coltrane is on board as The Curator. He’s good and he’s bad. And he is still big, as in a very large man, though not quite as big, or hairy as he was as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films.
Maximilian Shell, who is 81 years old off screen, and nearly as old on-screen this time around, plays the nemesis of the Brothers Bloom. He may have been their guide and teacher so they could learn the ropes about cheating folks years and years ago. But nowadays he’d take the Bloom Brothers for every penny they had too.
Toss in some splendid camera work and a bit of globe trotting and continent hopping and you have a clever recipe for success. Basically the film does work, and in a sense is satisfying. On the other hand, it is also maddeningly taken with its own cleverness. This film kind of overplays its own hand. Meaning we are tricked more times than we ought to be. It’s like the director/screenwriter, Rian Johnson, was so impressed by his own work so he sort of said – that was good, let me find a way to use this again.
So what you get is a few inexplicably visible plot problems that aren’t explained or resolved, they’re just glossed over or ignored. What you get is a not unexpected finish – in fact everyone in the film got what they wanted. In fact, the script goes as far as to tell us exactly that in those exact words.
We haven’t quite been duped like the marks in every con plot that makes it to the silver screen. Yet …, yet … Said another way – you get both less and more than you paid for with The Brothers Bloom.