A little bit of screwball comedy and a lot of film noir, add a dash of suspense-drama, and half a dozen card tricks too, then you have the recipe for making “The Brothers Bloom.” Written and directed by Rian Johnson (of “Brick” fame), “The Brothers Bloom” tells the tale of two con artist brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), their assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), and wealthy heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). The humor doesn’t come off as vulgar; it’s actually quite sweet.
The plot follows Bloom wanting to quit the thieving life but agreeing to a last project. Baiting and working Penelope is business as usual for the seasoned, smooth-talking story-tellers of the criminal persuasion and their demolition expert of very, very few spoken words. On a bicycle, Bloom places himself in the path of her speeding yellow Lamborghini; she hits him, has a seizure (off-screen), and the conning begins. No more than thirty-six hours later, she has joined the brothers and Bang Bang on a ship bound for Greece to participate in a “smuggling” operation involving an ancient holy text. Penelope is a collector of hobbies,* so it’s not surprising that she would feel right at home with her new surrogate family. The four of them behave with one another as if they were children. Not even quasi-sinister Curator (Robbie Coltrane) can put a grown-up spin to the atmosphere.
“The Brothers Bloom” progresses in sections, each with a location and a name (New Jersey: Roping the Mark, S.S. Fidele: Setting the Bait, Greece: Telling the Tale, Prague: Springing the Trap, Mexico: the Blow Off, St. Petersburg: Big Finish). While it creates and sustains a terrifically off-the-wall viewing experience, the film veers off into dramatic waters and consequently becomes a lot more ordinary. Furthermore, the introduction of a villain, the character of Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell), who had been the brothers’ mentor, lends a grim dimension to the story that I could’ve done without. To be fair, however, I could see the beauty of reaching into the movie’s extended narrative and extracting a cup of irony…in light of Bloom’s summation of his brother’s technique: “Stephen writes his cons like dead Russians…full of thematic arcs and symbolism.”
*She plays instruments, spins the vinyl, raps, juggles, makes origami, rides a unicycle, and makes pin-hole cameras out of watermelons.