Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Cast: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane
Director: Rian Johnson
Runtime: 113 min.
Rating: ****1/2
Genre: Comedy, Thriller

        The Brothers Bloom touches me somewhere deep. Something I realize only later. I watch it on Saturday morning. I sit down to write about it. The affable con-game on display, and the artistry of its manipulation leaves me smitten. Like one of those Wes Anderson films. Like one of those romantic films from Hal Ashby. I know I’m already in love with it. I want to know why. I want to know the strength of those initial feelings of mine, and if they could withstand the analysis. It bothers me the film is titled The Brothers Bloom, when the principal characters are only called Stephen (Mr. Ruffalo) and Bloom (Mr. Brody), two Dickensian orphans who do not really have a last name.
        Elder brother Stephen always takes care of younger Bloom, and artistically designs elaborate con-schemes, and he would ask his younger brother to play the parts. He would script characters, and younger Bloom would play them. Mr. Johnson, the fantastic new talent who has only ever directed one film prior to this – the remarkable 2005 Indie-success Brick – and who seems to be well set to create a memorable filmography all his own, unique in style and substance, seems to incorporate a whole lot of movie references – from The Marx Brothers (Bang-Bang played by ms. Kikuchi is awfully silent during the movie and seems like Harpo Marx , to Godard’s Bande à Part (the romance that Penelope, played by Ms. Weisz, brings to the trio of Stephen Bloom and her), , to Fellini’s 81/2 (Stephen, the scriptwriter-director, always seems to be dressed in an attire that is not much different from Guido), to the cheerful poetic dialogs that remind one of early David Mamet. And the biggest influence of them all, that zenith of Mr. Bogdanovich’s career, Paper Moon. Mr. Johnson admits to have seen that film before heading along to make this one.
        That said, I wonder, Stephen’s designs seem to include a few literary references too. For instance, there’s the most blatant one to Melville’s The Confidence Man. The movie opens to one of the most beautiful montages in recent cinematic history, as we see young Stephen and Bloom hopping their way from home to home. These kids are smart, street-smart, especially the elder one. He has a knack of playing around with the neighborhood. With little hats on them they don’t look much different from Tom Sawyer. Maybe they both are winks to Sawyer and Huck Finn. So, as I sit down to write, with all these ideas hounding me, and the little fact that Stephen is the author of characters Bloom plays, the answer to the strangeness of the title strikes me. At least what I think is the answer. Another literary reference? Possible. Take a moment dear reader, rake your memory and ask yourself in which great book there existed such an author-character relationship between characters named Stephen and Bloom. James Joyce’s Ulysses comes to mind. I can only wonder, I can only speculate, and I can only seek to re-watch the film to convince myself. I know for sure I need to watch the film again just so to quantify the beauty of it, and analyze it. You might call it reviewing, as do I. But I prefer indulging deep within the recesses of a joyful piece of filmmaking.
        So I write not another word, and I buy the tickets to another show. Monday, 9 p.m. I’m excited. I wish my brother was here. Back when we were kids, father would always take us brothers to the movies together. But my brother had a six-year head-start, and he always seemed to know a lot more stories than me. We were always best friends, the best companions the other could ever have, and a huge portion of our weekends would involve a whole lot of enthusiastic storytelling from him and some eager listening from me. He would tell me stories of movies I’m discovering now. He would tell me stories I haven’t even seen yet. He would mix them all up, create an adventure all his own, or something ridiculously screwball, and I wonder now how could he be so unbelievably imaginative. I wonder because he would tell me stories of movies that do not even exist. He created a world of magical realism, all on his own, and I was his only audience. I always have been. He doesn’t watch many movies these days, doesn’t seem to have too many stories, with the grind of everyday life and all, and I think I already am one-up on my nephews. I shall tease them when they are born, and when they grow up – Hey, you know what, your dad would tell me stories. Take that.
        It is a great feeling to have an extra parent in your life. I have my ticket in my hand, and I walk into the theatre, and walk to my seat. Screen 3, E-11. I’m excited, you see. There’s another bunch sitting over there, and on my seat. I only say E-11. They remark – Impossible – and pull out their tickets. I hand them over mine. They say mine reads The Brothers Bloom, and the movie being screened is The Hangover. I’m stunned. I thank them, and I am still stunned. I walk out, and the manager is standing outside. I ask him and he says some stuff about the print being broken. I know he is bullshitting, and I know The Brothers Bloom isn’t finding too much favor. Not in the United States, and not here. My heart’s broken. I curse the dreadful The Hangover. I drive back.
        And I sit down to writing the review, which you must have realized till now isn’t turning out be one. I know. My heart’s still broken. The memories of the movie have been diluted somewhat. By Gabhricha Paus. By Coralline. By Good. Yet I shall seek inspiration from my brother. Not invent something, but write from what I remember. I’m severely handicapped to analyze the film with any great depth, and I shall wait for the day the DVD is out when I shall pour incessantly all over it. The most brilliantly constructed montage of Penelope’s skills. The poetry of the conversations. The impossible nature of the relationships. That will be the day I shall write a real review. Take this one as filler, and a plea to watch one of the year’s best films, and the early offerings of what promises to be a great career. Not much unlike the early Christopher Nolan, or the early Coen brothers.
        So the plot of this fairy tale. The Brothers Bloom have prospered at a life full of con artistry that is the stuff of conversations in bars filled with cons and beautiful temptresses. Younger Bloom is facing existential issues for he no longer wants to be playing roles designed for him. He is disillusioned in the way Stephen scripts his cons the way those Russian novelists wrote their books, like Dostoevsky, with thematic arcs and symbolism. He sits across a bench with Stephen, and explains his feelings. Stephen knows, or maybe he acts as if he knows. He seems to be the author in every which way, and he seems to be aware of the ins and outs of all his characters.
        Especially Bloom. Bloom wants nothing of it. Yet he doesn’t seem to be sure of what he really wants. We humans, dear reader, always seem to be at loss of the appropriate word when we aren’t really sure of what is that we exactly desire. When we do, the word invariably condenses in our minds. Bloom tries his level best to condense it all, and in a beautiful bit of conversation, he says – “I want a real...thing, I wanna do things how I don’t know are gonna work out, a, I, want, a...”, and that is when Stephen snaps, conjuring the exact words Bloom has been searching for – “You want an unwritten life.” Bloom agrees – “I want an unwritten life” – and a smile appears on Stephen’s face as Bloom just realizes that he agreed on a scripted line. You should applaud the poetry of the writing here.
        Three months pass by. Whilst Bloom has been passing his time by in Montenegro, Stephen has come up with what he claims is their last con. The perfect con. To relieve a filthy rich lonely woman of a million dollars. The script is ready. Bloom has the character. There is Bang-Bang who shall provide for assistance. The woman is Penelope. And I shall discuss no more of the plot.
        It is the convention of a good con story to make us part of the con. From The Sting to Ocean’s Eleven, we audiences are never sure what the scheme is. A con story has always been narrated in a third person. Mr. Johnson pulls a clever spin on this convention, and by narrating this last con from Bloom’s perspective, he kinda makes it really unsettling. Subjectively I mean. We share the exact same insecurities as Bloom. Who is in the scam? Is Stephen hiding something? At a moment in the film Bloom is worried Penelope might be onto something. She is a bright woman, and he fears that she knows it all. He wonders if the con is on him. This is the film playing with us, and all the notions that we have developed over at the movies. There’re twists, and there’re twists and there’re twists. So many of them that after a point, they no longer seem to be the point. The point is that Stephen is building a magical reality for Bloom all the while.
        The point is The Brothers Bloom seems to somewhat allude to the omnipresence of a grand narrative in cinema, and maybe even our lives. Is it possible for a character to live an unwritten life? I wouldn’t dwell into philosophy here, so let us just limit ourselves to the predominantly narrative nature of modern cinema. Most of our characters feel scripted. We thrive upon them. Is it possible for a film to break free of its script? For its characters to just be and exist? Would cinema thrive in such a form, and would bums be sitting on chairs watching it? I don’t know. Penelope at the end concludes – “There is no such thing as an unwritten life. Only a badly written one.” And she adds on – “We’re gonna live like we’re telling the best f***ing story in the world.” I think that is a pretty convincing answer, and a pretty convincing summarization of what constitutes for the best of cinema.
        And the narration doesn’t limit itself to the script and to the page. This isn’t intense, for Mr. Johnson seems to savor a somewhat light sense to the proceedings. The objective for us is to be entertained, in every which way, and he serves us with some delightful visual imagery that force you to let out a chuckle. There is so much happening at the same time – beautiful dialogs and fascinating imagery. A wall mural of a man holding a gun to his head has a door in the middle that opens to a loud “bang”, and out comes Stephen and the head is no more. There’s much randomness to its visual puns and often the plot seems to meander in its jolly mood too, and you might wonder if it all could be somehow streamlined into something that makes more of a point. Mr. Ebert makes such an argument. I perceive that to be a wrong vantage point to view this film from. The Brothers Bloom isn’t about the details of its plot, but about the joyful nature of it. Stephen and Bloom and Penelope want to find adventure that is not existent in their everyday lives, a certain kind of entertainment, a certain kind of happiness. The film seems to desire the same. If it doesn’t exist in any discernible timeline, with its mish-mash of twenties clothing and present day surroundings, it is only trying to enjoy the best of both worlds. And by God it does.
        I shall dwell on more of the film later, when memory is in my court. I feel I might have gained some kind of closure after the heartbreak of today, something I shall never forget. I shall reserve observations of the acting and the visual style and the editing and the resident themes for then. That this is a buoyant little film is a fact beyond argument. That Mr. Ruffalo is one of our great actors is a fact beyond any doubt. That Ms. Weisz delivers an enchanting little turn is a fact that only strengthens the charismatic nature of the film. That Mr. Johnson is one of our most exciting talents is a fact you shouldn’t forget.
        And yes, that a viewer needs a second viewing to look beyond the aesthetics and cute references and into the affection Mr. Johnson has for his characters, and to ascertain why this certain film has made me fall in love with it, is a truth I shall surely pursue.


Just Another Film Buff said...

Are your blog times in IST? I don't think so! :) Or you really post them at 5:59 Am 4:30 AM etc? :D

Am I right when I say you watched THERE movies between your 9PM show and the time you put up this post?

This film never released in Bangalore... sad.

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth, sorry for giving off the wrong impression. The 9 pm show of Monday never materialized for The hangover sprayed water over my plans. And I sat down, and poured my heart.

Ah yes, those times you see is when I post my reviews. You are a movie lover yourself. You are a wonderful writer. Wouldn't you prefer the calm and solitude of the night to discover yourself?

Just Another Film Buff said...

Ah, those night-owl days are gone for me... Nowadays, NIGHT starts at 9 PM and off to sleep at 11:30 :(

But, as will be yours, my idea of a night out any day will be lying on the couch, sipping hot coffee, simulating the hum of a projector using my old ceiling fan and watching a Chaplin film without sound...

Talking of Chaplin, don't you think this Brody fellow makes for a great silent movie actor... He somehow reminds me of the poor and feeble Keaton...

man in the iron mask said...

Brody should never speak. A great filmmaker or a great casting agent will give him a role where he only he needs to look. With those raised eyebrows. You know, he looks a bit like Laurel to me. Brody is at his best when he is speaking to himself, or reacting to himself. He sure would make a wonderful silent movie actor.

Arthi said...

After I watched this movie, I had to go back to it again and again. Somehow the tonal shift towards the latter half didn't do me good...Takes a while to get into that groove...But there are those
nuggets that pull you back time and again...Yup as you say Penelope's montage..even the card game later....
There's this dialogue when Bloom tells Bang Bang offhandedly...A 78 Cadi ? Controversial choice...
For the life of me I never understood it..only to find later that it was a random pick up by Johnson (one of his friend's line it seems) yet somehow it fits in so well....
And Bang Bang...Rinko and no one else....I loved this scene - the flashback narrated by Bloom as to how she comes into the lives ..Classy! Adrien can express so much with just a glance and raised
eyebrows...and Rinko Blank yet telling....whoa....
And whats with Bang Bang's fixation with water or rather throwing things off into it....there are three instances and I'm at a loss as to why? Its no quirky little offshoot but has to have something there....Did you pick that up too?