Despite The Cloying Quirks, THE BROTHERS BLOOM Works

THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2009)

The opening set-up montage featuring the title’s namesakes as kids is narrated by the voice of the actor, writer, and smooth magician Ricky Jay. Jay did the same duties for the striking beginning of MAGNOLIA 10 years ago so he lends an air of familiarity immediately to the punchy proceedings. Likewise, straight out of the Wes Anderson playbook, comes another montage in which Rachel Weisz displays how she “collects hobbies”. These devices recall the notion of a sea of quirk that Michael Hirschorn of the Atlantic envisioned a few years back (“Quirked Around” Sept. 2007). Hirschorn wrote that due to the likes of the Andersons (both Wes and Paul Thomas) and their peers, there was a threat that indie cinema could drown in quirk.

It’s an empty threat though; quirky characters in strained, possibly life endangering situations – the ‘cinema of cringing’ it could be called – have been the norm since the dawn of movie history. THE BROTHERS BLOOM, about con-artist brothers (Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo), has many bits that feel like re-fried quirk from other flicks, yet it still works, gloriously too at times.

For some reason Brody is called Bloom while Ruffalo goes by Stephen so the title I do not get * but whatever. Brody, tired of an endless series of cons, decides he wants the “unwritten life” but Ruffalo gets him to go on one last big score. Of course, a woman (Weisz) fouls things up and twists them around and around in their little art smuggling scam. Brody says of his brother’s cons that they are like the narratives of some Russian novelist, containing “thematic arcs and shit.” We’re swept through scene after scene of double crossing with some predictable turns, yet just like the quirks they can be forgiven with such a capable cast and a not too clever for its own good tone.

Brody and Ruffalo carry THE BROTHERS BLOOM and play off each other with the believable edge of siblings. Wiesz gels well with them too even with her sitcom girlfriend vibe going strong. The film shows director Johnson getting comfy with comedy, though it must be said that it isn’t quite on the level of his previous dramatic work – the brilliant BRICK. Without a doubt, the stale “style over substance” complaint will be used in many reviews but many moviegoers will enjoy swimming in this particular sea of quirks.

* Looks like no less than Roger Ebert didn’t get this either so I don’t feel as bad.

More later…