The Brothers Bloom opens Friday in select theaters
Rarely does a movie with so much superfluous junk in its first act have such a clear mark of when the skippable stuff is over and where the movie should have actually begun. The Brothers Bloom should have started with this: A hungover Adrien Brody sits across from a perky Mark Ruffalo at an outdoor café and asks “How’d you find me?” Ruffalo lays out a scam he has planned, talks a resistant Brody into it and we’re off. How bad could whatever 80 minutes followed that really be?
Unfortunately, it takes much too long for writer-director Rian Johnson (who, I hope, for his next movie, will return to the good form he showed in his debut, Brick) to get to that scene, and by the time it arrives, it’s unnecessary. But even given its flatness, The Brothers Bloom still has the makings of a movie I’m a sucker forswindlers, scenes aboard boat and train, meet-cutes and Mark Ruffaloso I was disappointed not to be suckered by it. One of the main problems is that the movie loads itself down with back story and emotional baggage, taking much too long to get to that outdoor café.
The film is the story of two con-artist brothers, played by Brody and Ruffalo, pulling a scam on a rich heiress (Rachel Weisz) with lots of hobbies. It’s mostly a drag, with expected plot results and superficial character devices that fill in gaps that these capable actors could have sketched in themselves. All of the hobbies and talents that Weisz’s character shows off to Brody substitute for the charm and quirk that Weisz should have been given the chance to pull off without crashing Ferraris and juggling chainsaws.
We meet the Bloom brothers when they are children, and the movie crawls from cloying (a kitten with a crutch in a roller skate) to cringe-inducing (smarty-pants child actors meant to sound clever) before even getting to the opening credits. When a pyrotechnic title screen announces that the movie proper is about to begin, it’s very difficult to care.
The worst thing about the awful opening is that it is unnecessary. It sets up one dynamic between the brothers that the rest of the movie will laze inside of: Bloom (Brody) is sensitive, wants to meet a nice girl and always wants out of the con life; Stephen (Ruffalo) is brash, manipulative and is constantly talking Bloom back into playing along with his schemes. Because Brody and Ruffalo are left to simply retrace the same emotional story that Johnson wrote into the opening, their performances and the film they should be driving never gather any momentum.
The story and themes play out predictably: Bloom’s inborn sensitivity predestines him to fall in love with Penelope, and Stephen’s deft hand at constructing elaborate ruses makes his character arc vaguely about the question of whether life can be lived freely or only as part of someone else’s plan. I can only think that Johnson has bogged this film down the way he has because he thinks it might lend emotional weight or thematic structure to the flinty trifles he’s put up on screen. But he tries to get the film to be touching or even significant when it has no chance to be either. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with flinty trifles in the first place. The Brothers Bloom doesn’t aspire to be all that much, but it would have been better (or at least watchable) had it aspired to be less.