The successful con is the one where everyone gets what they want. Its a statement that is profound in its simplicity. The same is true of THE BROTHERS BLOOM, where the premise is postulated and then proven with a deceptively simple plot that hides in plain sight.
The brothers in question are Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), an orphaned duo who came early in life to the confidence racket while being bounced from foster home to foster home. Stephen is the brains of the operation, plotting out elegantly nuanced cons that show a preternatural attention to detail and the gusto of someone who has found his niche in the world. Bloom, the passive brother, finds himself becoming the person he wants to be only when playing a part in his brothers elaborate schemes, parts written by Stephen precisely for that end. Its a symbiotic relationship that has made them wildly successful. Its also made Stephen happy, but made Bloom morose. Its become the routine of their existence to pull a successful job, celebrate, and then for Stephen to listen once again to Bloom sigh for a life that is not written, just lived. Until now. After a mark flees a burning library with the belief that he is lucky to have gotten away with murder, if not the money that he is unaware has been scammed from him, Bloom is even more morose than usual. Maybe its the locale, Berlin, maybe its the incipient rut they feel themselves getting into, but this time Bloom sticks to his guns. For all of three months, after which his brother tracks him down in the wilds of Montenegro and talks him into one last con. The very last, he promises, involving an eccentric and beautiful heiress (Rachel Weisz) with a penchant for crashing yellow Lamborghinis, and a trip to Prague by way of Greece and New Jersey.
The heiress, Penelope, is not the usual eccentric heiress living in the largest private residence on the East Coast. Shes an eccentric heiress who is a confusing blend of innocence and intelligence. Sheltered in her palatial home for most of her life, shes able to teach herself how to take photographs using a watermelon, but unable to keep a conversation going with Bloom after Stephen arranges for them to meet accidentally. Literally accidentally, since, as the film notes, the best way to insinuate yourself into someones life is from the hospital bed in which said someone has put you. For the first time in the Brothers career, though, things do not go quite as planned, though they go and its that element of uncertainty that makes what follows such a delicious tease.
Each of the characters is startlingly honest, and yet as often as not, the honesty is another sort of subterfuge served up to lull someone, either on screen or in the audience, into a false sense of security. And yet, for all the sleight of hand, a metaphor made manifest with the continual motif of cards being manipulated to do astounding things, this is a film that plays absolutely fair with its viewers, and even with its protagonists. The writing is deft, shrewd, scathingly intelligent, an twinkling with an ebullient wit. Writer/director Rian Johnson has made an ever so slightly less stylized world here than in his previous film, BRICK, but if anything, he has upped the level of sophistication on many levels. Hes also upped the emotional volatility as Bloom alternately adores and abhors his brother, and tries to work out if hes actually falling in love with Penelope, or just immersing himself too much in his role. As for Penelope, how much she knows, how much she cares about how much she knows, is a wondrous mystery. The same can be said of the Brothers acutely attired sidekick, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese woman whose name is more than a metaphor, and whose inability to speak more than three words of English is no barrier to her being understand that language fluently.
Literary references, acknowledged and not, fly with blithe abandon, as the film also fearlessly explores the self-referential without for a moment succumbing to self-consciousness. Madcap caper flicks of the 1960s provide a stylishly entertaining framework, but the landscapes, full of bear-like one-eyed Russians with bejeweled eyepatches (Maximillian Schell), one-legged cats with insouciant pluck, and a camel that is no more out of place in this version of a European setting as he is bemused by the gift of expensive scotch, are a universe unto themselves.
The actors combine the artifice of the construct with the sincerity of their motivations. Ruffalo is genial and slightly rumpled with a look that moves easily between the delight of the con and the arch earnestness of a master. Brody mopes with an existential ecstasy, and Weisz is a revelation. When Bloom complements Penelope, Weisz accepts the praise with a ravishing display of suddenly realizing she doesnt know quite how to react combined with the complete inability to do anything but beam with a sheepish delight. When things turn more carnal, the lessening of the sheepish quotient and the frank enjoyment of the new sensations of something as simple as a kiss perfectly conveys the rapture of what that first experience ought to be.
THE BROTHERS BLOOM ponders the difficulties of living an authentic life in a world of outside expectations and tricky perceptions (an element given piquant emphasis by having prestidigitator Ricky Jay as the narrator). It may sound like a dry tome of philosophy, but Johnson has made it a giddy kaleidoscope of more earthy experiences. By doing so, he has brought the question, and its solution, out of the theoretical while captivating the audience with an invaluable primer on love, life, and blowing things up.