With the Oscars being handed out tomorrow in one of the weakest years for great films, I want to recommend a quirky, unapologetically self-conscious con-flick from last summer. At the time, I was in Korea where any movie with Adrian Brody is immediately granted first run, but in North America (upon my return), no one seemed to have heard of The Brothers Bloom. I assume that the movie was simply too literary for North American tastes (although it also…yet unsurprisingly…was poorly received in Korea: a country which collectively hated Watchmen because it wasn’t Wolverine, uggh).
The literary references begin in the very title: a combination of The Brothers Karamazov and Ulysses’ Leopold Bloom. Bloom (Adrian Brody) is the reluctant leading man in the schemes of his also Joycian-named older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), who “writes his cons like dead Russian novelists: with character arcs and symbolism and shit”. The movie already had me at this point. One of the biggest problems with loading a film with symbolism is that the movie immediately appears unreal. How can the colour green always occur around certain characters? Why is that character’s name based on Greek mythology in a way that foreshadows the ending? In The Brothers Bloom, the answer is simple: Stephen created it – more-or-less – which becomes the hook of the film.
The final con Stephen proposes to Bloom marks a rich and beautiful recluse…of course…named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). She lives alone in a mansion collecting hobbies and has read enough to start catching the references in Stephen’s plot once she joins their band of art-thieves. The actual con turns out to be less interesting and important than the beauty of the entire film – from the colours, settings, and score to the brothers Bloom’s explosives expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi).
What is con and what is real blurs as the film sails towards its climax. There are moments of confusion and events too contrived to be true (because they’re often not), but I was never bored during this whimsical meta-heavy fantasy. You don’t even need to catch all the outside references to enjoy the movie – I’m sure I missed many. There are enough recurring themes and symbols within the film itself for those, like me, who love to see such devices in action.
The Brothers Bloom is not a perfect film, but it’s far and away the most enjoyable movie I saw last year. Besides Up.