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.