The Brothers Bloom are the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now they've decided to take on one last job - showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress the time of her life with a romantic adventure that takes them around the world.
Brothers - older Stephen and three years junior Bloom - have been con artists since they were kids. Stephen is the mastermind, for who the intricacy of the story used in the con is as important as the positive outcome of the swindle. Bloom is the main character of Stephen's stories, the character he considers the anti-hero. As adults, they travel the world and never enlist the same people twice in their cons, except for their consistent sidekick, the mysterious and primarily silent Bang Bang, a Japanese woman who just appeared in their lives one day and who has a penchant for blowing things up. As Bloom hits his mid-thirties, he wants to quit the business as he is losing his own identity to that of the characters he portrays; he doesn't know anymore what is real and what is make-believe. Stephen talks him into one last con, the mark to be the eccentric, lonely but beautiful New Jersey heiress, Penelope Stamp. Penelope's primary past-time in life is to, as she calls it, "borrow hobbies...Written by
Rachel Weisz learned how to play piano, violin, accordion, banjo, ping pong, do karate, ride a unicycle, juggle, and even skateboard for her role as Penelope. See more »
When Stephen rings the doorbell outside Max's apartment in Prague, Max blasts his front door with a shotgun; the circle of wood in the door that will be blasted out is visible before the gunshot. See more »
As far as con man stories go, I think I've heard them all. Of grifters, ropers, faro-fixers; tails drawn long and tall. But if one bears a bookmark in the confidence man's tome, it would be that of Penelope, and of the brothers Bloom.
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There is a very good reason why most art-house fare is drama. For a comedy to be successful, the people involved have to be willing to let their hair down and be silly. But the people who make art-house movies take themselves and their films quite seriously. As a result, when art-house filmmakers try their hands at comedy, we get god-awful pretentiousness and instead of actual jokes we get quirky characters taken straight from "New Yorker" cartoons with dialog full of obscure literary allusions. I have only seen six movies that have succeeded in being highbrow art films without sacrificing funniness ("Love and Death", "Slacker", "Barton Fink", "Henry Fool", "Being John Malkovich" and "Stranger Than Fiction") and all of them poke fun at their own pomposity. Plus Woody Allen, the Coens, and Charlie Kaufmann all started out doing straight comedy and only got into the art-house stuff later in their careers, so they already knew from funny.
"The Brothers Bloom" is not a successful art-house comedy. I realized it from the opening sequence with third person narration from Ricky Jay. We meet the two brothers as kids in an upscale small town. While the rest of the kids dress normally, the brothers have Beatle cuts, wear dark suits and wear hats that went out of style in the 1930's. The narration reveals writer-director Rian Johnson's ax to grind when it sneers at the "happy, well-adjusted, stable playground bourgeoisie" (God forbid anyone be middle-class *and* happy!). Older brother Stephen gets revenge on the local kids (and sets up younger brother Bloom's unwanted ability to seduce any woman he talks to) by constructing an elaborate con that gets all the kids' clothes dirty and earns the brothers $30.
Fast-forward 25 years. The Beatle cuts and third person narration are gone, but the brothers--now in their middle 30's--still wear dark suits and old-fashioned hats. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is still constructing elaborate cons that also function as great literature (pretentious, no?) with Bloom (Adrien Brody) and mute Japanese munitions expert "Bang Bang" (Rinko Kikuchi). Bloom wants out because the cons invariably lead to women throwing themselves at him, which he is extremely uncomfortable with. Eventually he gets up the courage to split for Montenegro and leave the con game behind. But Stephen tracks him down and gets him to agree to the hackneyed One Last Job on a sheltered heiress (Rachel Weisz) who is fluent in multiple languages, can play any musical instrument, and makes homemade cameras all because she was never able to leave her house until both parents died when she was already past 30.
The rest of the movie doesn't make any sense. This could be forgiven if the film was actually funny. And since all four leads are good enough actors that they have been Oscar winners or Oscar nominees, they do their best with the material they're given. But the funniest moment is when Stephen quips "I'm not sure he's really Belgian." The rest of it is silly hats, quirks, and pointless explosions. And at 113 minutes, it's at least 20 minutes too long for a comedy with no jokes.
The Marx Brothers' movies for Paramount and the Monty Python films prove that you can make a laugh-out-loud comedy that's also intelligent. And Woody Allen and Wes Anderson have proved you can also add melancholy and a sophisticated film-making style without sacrificing laughs. But "The Brothers Bloom" falls into the same trap as "Box of Moonlight", "Love and Death on Long Island", "I Heart Huckabees" and "Little Miss Sunshine": the screenwriters and/or directors are unwilling to do anything that keeps their movie from being taken seriously, which defeats the whole purpose of making a comedy. 5 out of 10.
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