The jaunty, energetic first 10 minutes of "The Brothers Bloom" are easily the best first 10 minutes of any film I've seen recently. And while the succeeding hour and 43 minutes doesn't hold up to the movie's opening scenes, the whole endeavor is still an awfully good time.
Writer/director Rian Johnson pitched "Brothers" after the surprise success of his freshman effort, "Brick," which was the cinematic equivalent of rapidly downing 25 espresso shots. With "Brothers," Johnson has eased back considerably, combining his trademark energetic patter with moments of genuine pathos. He has ample help from the Dream Cast, which includes Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as the titular brothers and Rachel Weisz as the putative love interest/mark.
Abandoned and unloved as children, Stephen Bloom and his younger brother bounce from town to town, and foster home to foster home, perfecting card tricks and dreaming up ways to separate their classmates from their allowances. As the boys drift, they each hone a Big Dream. Stephen, brains and brawn of the operation, fantasizes about the Ultimate Con, while his angst-filled brother's deepest desire is more elemental: to truly know himself beyond the confines of Stephen's meticulous schemes.
Twenty-five years later, the brothers have matured into world-class confidence men, with a global network of accomplices, co-conspirators and, naturally, enemies. Shadowed by The Curator (Robbie Coltrane, channeling Peter Sellers) and accompanied by Bang Bang, a laconic pyrotechnician (Rinko Kikuchi), they travel the world in search of great marks. When the game is up, they throw super-awesome post-con wrap parties.
One day, the brothers meet Penelope (Weisz), and from the carefully orchestrated moment she drives her canary-yellow Lamborghini into Brody's bicycle, their cons take on new meaning. (I'll abandon the synopsis here for fear of undermining anyone's enjoyment of the movie's who's-conning-whom plot twists.)
Ruffalo reportedly had to be convinced he was the right actor for the role of Stephen Bloom, which requires a Clooney-esque rakishness -- not something we generally get from the low-key Ruffalo. He needn't have worried; his performance is great fun to watch. Brody, who might as well put a trademark on his super soulful gaze (used to great effect on Weisz's Penelope), plays the younger Bloom as a watchful follower slowly coming into himself. And Weisz -- much like her compatriot Kate Winslet -- combines a luminous screen presence with a muscular, confident acting style.
Johnson, whose light hand belies his unusual attention to comic detail, deserves kudos for delivering a funny, sharply observed, emotionally resonant crime caper, one that lapses only occasionally into preciousness. His characters, despite their eccentric lives, wrestle with the same mundane questions that keep the rest of us up at night: Whom can I trust? What does love mean? How much C-4 explosive does it take to blow up an entire castle?
Johnson cites "The Sting" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" as influences on his film, but he may owe a much greater debt to Wes Anderson: This film's blend of quirky realism and fantastical touches is highly reminiscent of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and, to a lesser extent, "The Darjeeling Express."
In either case, of course, "Brothers Bloom" is in very good company.
'The Brothers Bloom'
Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody in 'The Brothers Bloom'