Fantastic Fest 2008: The Brothers Bloom
Sure, this is coming to you a couple days after the festival ended but because they’re showing three films from the festival today at the Alamo Drafthouse for free I think I still have an open window to write one more review. That, and I completely forgot I saw this [not a good sign] and Todd said he was going to write it up, but didn’t. Too busy looking handsome I suppose. The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his much lauded teen-noir flick Brick was one of the secret screenings as this year’s festival.
Imagine if you will that you are participating in an elaborate dinner party. You’re seated with other guests around the table. You admire the decor of the room: the retro wallpaper, family heirlooms, pictures of ancestors, the silverware handed down through the generations. By all accounts none of this should compliment the other but though you cannot place your finger on it, it all works together. You enjoy a full course meal and everyone is sharing funny and exciting stories. These stories are about great adventures and trips from around the world. You’ve just finished desert when you host announces that he has a surprise for his guests. The French doors open up and four great big fuck-off rhinoceros’ come barging into the dining room. These four [it didn’t have to be four I just picked a number for each side of the table] rhinos then feed you the same meal you just ate all over again. They tell you the same stories again except this time they’re gruff, mean and violent. They finish their fine dining assault and they charge off back through the doors and close them behind them. You and the rest of the guests sit there, stunned, silent, and wondering what the hell just happened. Whatever it was it just ruined a perfect evening. This is how I would describe The Brothers Bloom.
The Brothers Bloom is a story about a duo of con men, brothers who have drifted in and out of foster homes since their childhood, who reunite to do one last sting. How they would work is the younger brother, Bloom, would play the roles written out in ‘stories’ by elder brother Stephen. However, Bloom would always suffer greater than his brother because he immersed himself so much in his role that he often attached himself to the marks and would subsequently get hurt when the sting happened. Having done this too many times Bloom quits and hides for three years until his brother finds him and recruits him for one last big score. Enter Penelope Stamp, heiress to a fortune, an eccentric shut-in, and a woman who hardly leaves her mansion. She collects hobbies in order to entertain herself. She can juggle chainsaws, play the harp and making pinhole cameras out of hollowed out watermelons. Bloom’s obtrusive entrance into her life and the bumper of her yellow Lamborghini[s] lights a spark in her and she is anxious to go off on an adventure. She is so seemingly oblivious to the brothers’ story and their best chance at an easy million dollars.
Kudos must go to the actresses in this film. Rachel Weisz is light, whimsical and funny as Penelope Stamp though fans may want to see more from her than her character portrays in the film. All of the character development in Johnson’s script is for the brothers and she is often relegated to the background during those scenes. Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang is an absolute scene stealer. Limited to only a couple words of dialogue her strength in her character portrayal is in her physicality. It sounds weird to say that her character is well written given that she has hardly any dialogue but you must keep your eye on her any time she is on the screen; she is that good in her role.
For the most part this film had an aesthetic that defied damnation. The brothers and cast dress in multiple era clothing. Penelope drives a Lamborghini yet they sail on a steamship when they go around Europe, then fly back in a passenger jet. None of these elements in the production design should have complimented each other yet somehow this mash of historical and modern worked well. Production design and filmmaking skills were not where I had a problem with The Brothers Bloom. Where The Brothers Bloom stalls and dies for me is after the first heist is carried out. Suddenly mood and emotion darken as Stephen drags Bloom into a second heist, drawing them dangerously close to Diamond Dog, once their mentor and now their enemy. It is such an odd turn in events that I was almost taken aback by it. It was difficult to appreciate what was up front with the film; a tale of identity, playing parts in a story and living life in the fullest.
My first response to this film, and I share this with Todd, I think we still do, is that nothing in the second heist in this film could not have been done successfully in the first heist that brought all our characters and motivated the film throughout most of its run time. I had at first thought it ruined a perfectly good movie. The main heist has been carried out, why does the film keep going and create a second heist in which things turn ugly, dark and depressing? It seems to self destruct and implodes on its own laurels; crushed by its own loftiness and attained heights. It is so funny and enjoyable and then it turns ugly and violent. I began to wonder why it did this. It’s as if Johnson saw what he had created and because it was so beautiful he grew to loathe it and proceed to destroy all that was beautiful about it.
Then I got to thinking and I began to wonder about production design and aesthetic and the world that Johnson creates in his film. Because everything is created for a reason I began to think about this world that Johnson had created. What we seem to have here is this clashing of worlds, of eras. Perhaps what we have here is an allegory for cultural change and each heists offers an interpretation of how each era would see and carry it out. In an era suited to the brothers, an era of steam ships, where men wore suits and hats, it was funny, light and adventurous. Move to a modern age of passenger jets and Lamborghinis and it is an era where heists would be carried out with machine guns, goons and violence. It is an era where the job is pulled off with force and it is louder and more offensive than its predecessor. Funny though that it is the younger brothers who carry out these heists with a smart and gentle approach and the older Diamond Dog resorts to guns and violence. By all accounts the elder should have been the one to reminisce and look fondly at a better time. Perhaps Johnson himself laments the loss of a kinder, gentler time with gentlemen thieves.
I liked The Brothers Bloom up to the first heist then I lost interest and a reason for caring when the second one was under way. Frustrating really, I was really enjoying it up until then.