Wednesday, 7 July 2010

'The Brothers Bloom' review: a hopelessly derivative crime caper with a game cast...

Admittedly I haven’t seen Rian Johnson’s 2005 directorial debut ‘Brick’, but from the trailer it looks dark, intense and original. In fact, at Sundance that year it won a “Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision”. It comes as a surprise then to find that his second feature, ‘The Brother’s Bloom’, is a totally derivative work – most obviously inspired by the films of Wes Anderson and Bogdanovich’s ‘Paper Moon’. Being a fan of Wes Anderson myself, this does not necessarily make for unpleasant viewing, however it is all carried off to such an inferior standard (visually and in terms of writing) that audience goodwill quickly dissipates and you soon see why the film has taken the best part of two years to find distribution in the UK after playing Toronto in 2008.

About two big time con men - one looking for “something real” and the other for the perfect con - there is some fun to be had here with some amiable performers in the starring roles. Adrian Brody (himself an Anderson veteran), Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz do their best with the material they are given. Brody, who plays the younger brother Bloom, has an improbably sad face which can’t help but register, whilst Ruffalo is good fun as the elder brother and expert con man, Stephen. However, the star of the show and certainly the most compelling reason to watch the film is Weisz, who really gets under the skin of her character and to her credit seems to have approached the whole project with the a charming conviction. Most of the (few) genuine laughs belong to her and her character is a sweet creation.

Unfortunately the Academy Award nominated Rinko Kikuchi is allowed to flounder in a self-consciously quirky, off-beat role as a Japanese accomplice of the con men. Johnson gives her precious little dialogue and she is relegated to a role as a modern day Burt Kwouk figure and junior partner in proceedings.

The irritating thing about ‘The Brothers Bloom’ is that it has some moments of promise and contains some very good ideas. The end twist is not unexpected but is signalled in a terrifically inventive fashion. However, the thirty-plus minutes prior to that are so full of unnecessary twists and turns, with Brody asking aloud “I don’t know what is a con and what is not!”, that you long since lose interest in the conclusion. There are also a great many terrible lines which often fall to Weisz, such as “a photograph is a secret about a secret” or “there is no such thing as an unwritten life, only a badly written one” which scream at you with self-congratulating smugness and mean nothing.

The opening ten minutes, which tell the tale of the boys in childhood performing their first con, are really quite fun - featuring the superb Max Records as the young Stephen. Mostly ‘The Brothers Bloom’ is hoping to be breezy and fun. The fact that it fails to achieve this goal means that it is certainly not a good film. But it is ultimately hard to really dislike a film as good-natured and kind-hearted as this. Which is not to say that I liked ‘The Brothers Bloom’ much at all.

'The Brothers Bloom' can still be seen at selected cinemas in the UK and is rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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