Tuesday, June 09, 2009

THE BROTHERS BLOOM

Up until Robbie Coltrane makes his Lynch-like entrance as "The Curator" or, as he's referred to in the trailer, "The Belgian", The Brothers Bloom is an off-kilter but on-cue comedy with clever lines and a seductive cinematic rhythm. Writer/director Rian Johnson front loads his second feature length film with enough cherry moments to make any director (new or old) envious of his bounding spring from the starting gates. Before the first twenty minutes are finished, either a choreographed gag between Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), the easy glide of the I'm-so-bored-but-tough-and-still-sexy Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), or the Crayola variety personas of Penelope (Rachel Weisz), will have you cackling or grinning like a camel that just came upon its first ever whisky flask.

With Ricky Jay's introductory narration taking us through the wonder years of Stephen and Bloom, the brothers, it easy to look upon the two young actors in their out-of-time quirky costumes, thrifty tastes, and charcoal drawn gameplans and think of Wes Anderson. But Johnson's angle is one more directly drafted from the play book of Peter Bogdonavich, a complicated careerist torn between his own personal adoration of movies and a desire to carve out his own name. Johnson's gobbling-up and digesting of outside influences may not be visible from his sleeve, but the impression they've left is intrinsically felt in inside-joke asides such as Bloom saying to Bang Bang, "A '78 Cadillac?... that's a controversial choice". It - presumably -means nothing, but it tickles your fascination nonetheless.

The film's title is much more directly descriptive than first believed. When we learn that one of the brothers is named Stephen and that the other goes by Bloom, the title - and nom de guerre they are known by amongst their colleagues - feels truncated. However, the sweet con is on us because the title, at its heart, refers to the flowering relationship between two siblings, brought to symbolic on-screen maturity itself when we see Bloom plopped-down in a field of blossoms next to Penelope as she coaches him through a revelation he's just had about Stephen.

Johnson's Bloom script is a much more ambitious undertaking than the previously breezy and pleasing breakout indie-hit Brick. Brick was a fine film, but it sometimes considered itself too cute. Still, the transferring of staid paranoia from film-noir conventions to the inner circle hierarchy within high school walls (ie, a Teen Beat-type crime syndicate) was both a fresh take on teenage anxiety and a send-up of modern faux-noirs like Sea of Love and LA Confidential. But The Brothers Bloom is a shift forward. If not complete in his vision, Johnson is confident in the risks that he takes, abandoning total control and exhibiting a refreshing confidence in the four top-billed actors. The Brothers Bloom declines in potency as the second half of the film rides on, but it's a film that strongly showcases a rising talent.

Also rising - in my book, at least - is Adrien Brody. I wasn't a fan until The Darjeeling Limited (in which he gave one of 2007's best performances). In fact, he irritated the living Diet Coke out of me! Then came Cadillac Records (great again, as Leonard Chess) and now The Brothers Bloom. Like Darren Aronofsky, Brody is an artist I had once routinely badmouthed, but am now so intrigued by that I gladly eat my crow. So, what changed with Brody? Personally, I think he's embraced his face. Meaning, like Peter Lorre, Brody has recognized that his slightly cartoonish facial features are his most valuable asset. You can even see the actor freezing his slim body, at times, in order to redirect your attention to his mug.

Much in the way The Brothers Bloom, as a whole, redirects our attention away from yet another dreadful blockbuster summer. Along with Drag Me to Hell (though not nearly as masterful), these were two May movies worth seeing.

11 comments:

Rick Olson said...

You know, Fox, I'm very glad to hear that you liked this one. I was looking forward to this -- I even posted a trailer of it -- then I heard it had a disastrous premiere at a festival (I think it was Toronto) and was being recut.

On the subject of Brody, I DID like him better in Darjeeling, but remain unconverted. But Ruffalo and -- especially -- Weisz draw me on to see this whenever it creeps into Tuscaloosa.

Fox said...

Rick-

The "disastrous premiere" is understandable. I say that, because the second half of the movie IS a mess, and I imagine it was even more so before the recutting.

Thing is, the mess didn't get to me that much because there was still enough charm left up on screen to get me by. I would like to watch it again in order to see if the second half really is a big mess, or if the pace just drastically slows down after the first 30 minutes and thus makes you feel off balance.

The film feels like it has four endings, and I think that's typically a sign of not knowing where to pinch it off and say "THE END".

Now that I've seen the film, I want to download Johnson's commentary track and see if he explains any of the pushing back of release time on this film.

Jason Bellamy said...

This is a terrific review. Perhaps one of your best. (I hesitate to say that, because bloggers immediately think, "THIS? What about X!?") Anyway, it's strong. Well argued, all over it, with a good tangent into Brody. Not to mention that "grinning like a camel that just came upon its first ever whisky flask" needs to become a national catchphrase.

I saw this two weekends ago, and a busy schedule might keep me from reviewing it, but you nailed it: The first 30 minutes are terrific; the next 30 are still fun; the last 30 are, yep, a mess.

(Just to be nice, I'll say SPOILER WARNING here, even though I'm not going to get into specifics.)

The first half of the film is terrific because it dresses up a love story in a heist film costume. In the latter half, the heist film takes over...and it becomes a bore. There are few things more tired right now than whole this-looks-real-but-it-just-can't-be-real--or-maybe-it-is-real--but-no-it-can't-be-real waffling. "Get on with it," I wanted to yell at the screen. "I don't believe any of this, and I've already decided I don't care!"

What a wimpering conclusion to what was otherwise such a fun film. It had me at hello, but it let me down after that.

I'm ambivalent about Brody (though I recall liking him in Summer of Sam, but that was many moons ago), but I thought Ruffalo was terrific. And Weisz always wins me over.

Fox said...

Jason-

Thank you. And I'm glad you still like the "grinning camel" line even though it's inspired/lifted from the movie. I figured it would be fun to throw something in that would ring with people who had seen TBB and make the others think I could be crazy.

I think I agree 100% with what you said, and your observation that "once the heist movie takes over it's a bore" is right on. I think the moment between Stephen, Bloom, and Penelope the night they get to Mexico was a poor one, and it set the finale of the movie off into kind of irritating territory (I say "kind of" b/c there were still things I liked down the home stretch).

On the "can't-be-real waffling", I think Rian Johnson really put himself down a wormhole for the last section of the film and he couldn't get out. My guess is that the writing sessions at that point resulted in some broken coffee mugs and crumpled paper piles. I don't know if it becomes parody or cliche near the end, but it does become something ill-fitting.

Fox said...

Oh, and Jason, I thought Wiesz was just great. Adorable on target with some oddball moments (I'm thinking of the noises she made when she's kissed and when Brody talks to her for the first time).

What did you think of Rinko Kikuchi? I thought she was a blast. She looks so damn cool. If I remember correctly, she was the only thing I liked aboutBabel.

bill r. said...

I want to see this movie, too, and I'm glad you liked it. I'd heard troubling things.

But most importantly, do you get to see Rachel Weisz's ass? Because I heard you do.

Fox said...

Bill-

You do indeed. And it's a cute one! But it's through a hospital gown. I don't know if that ruins any eroticism for you.

bill r. said...

It probably won't.

Jason Bellamy said...

(again, mild spoiler warning)

"I think Rian Johnson really put himself down a wormhole for the last section of the film and he couldn't get out..."

I suppose. Or maybe for the screenwriter the heist movie is a little like cocaine ... you just want more and more and then eventually you O.D. My gut feeling wasn't that Johnson was stuck but that he stupidly believed that more of a good thing made for more fun. (Hardly the first guy to make that mistake.) Or he just got greedy, and decided that his film would succeed as a quirky love story AND as a heist film.

As for Kikuchi, I didn't have strong feelings. She got it done, but there wasn't much to do. I did like her in Babel, but I'm one of those who liked most of Babel, so...

Bob Turnbull said...

Great review Fox...I mostly agree with what you said, except that I never quite jumped on for the ride at the beginning. I really, really wanted to, but the film seemed to beg me too much and that put me off a bit...

In retrospect, I'm not sure why. There's lots to love here. Weisz and Kikuchi are terrific (particularly Weisz who is just buckets of charming), the film is upbeat, Coltrane is fun, etc. Part of it may have been that I never quite bought that Ruffalo and Brody were great con men, but there was just something missing. Maybe it was me.

I actually saw it at the World Premiere in Toronto, so you think I would've been even more hopped up to jump on for that ride. I hadn't heard of any disastrous reviews afterwards - the crowd seemed to really warm to it and most of the people I talked to afterwards quite liked it. My review probably came off a bit more negative than it needed to because I do actually want to see it again.

By the way Bill - Rachel Weisz in person is freaking adorable.

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