The Brothers Bloom
At the State Theater
2 out of 5 stars
You may be a hipster if you brag about “Bob le Flambeur” yet haven’t seen the movie. You may also be a hipster if you adore Rian Johnson’s “Brick” and its “New Cult Canon” status at the Onion A.V. Club. And you most definitely are a hipster if you dig Johnson’s new caper “The Brothers Bloom.”
Engaging, but ultimately shallow, “Bloom” is the tale of two coolly dressed con-artist brothers and their tribulations. Tricky stuff like love, brotherly bonds and postmodern art-direction come into play in this quirk show. Now at the State, “Bloom” is an exercise in the ultra hip and hollow.
We open with two brothers, Stephen and Bloom. Of course, Ricky Jay (“Heist”) narrates, because according to unwritten movie law he must be in all scam artist movies. Foster home-hopping on account of of their precocious behavior, the brothers have a knack for clever cons. But it quickly becomes apparent that the boys have no real lives and they’re stuck in routine. They’re not brothers, but rather pretend brothers scamming people into trusting them.
The brothers grow into Mark Ruffalo (“Blindness”) and Adrien Brody (“Cadillac Records”). Ruffalo is Stephen, the winsome front man that seems to love playing tricks. Brody is Bloom, the worrisome straight man desperate to stop playing characters and live an “unwritten” life. Nice try, Brody — you’re in a movie.
The brothers are in for a final con — because that’s how it always works (see: “The Sting,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy) — trying to land Penelope (Rachel Weisz “Definitely, Maybe”), an extremely wealthy shut-in. Or as she likes to put it, an “epileptic photographer.” Cute.
Following formula, the remainder of the movie progresses easily enough. Show some nice locations, have some cleverly vague dialogue, put out a double-cross or two and feel confident. The film has some genuinely interesting imagery, referencing everything from Edward Gorey to nice Ralph Lauren advertisements. Plus, Montenegro looks good no matter what.
Ruffalo and Brody are fantastically game too, cavorting about like two guys having a great time. And let’s not ignore the enigmatic beauty of Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”) as the brothers’ consort Bang Bang. Truth is, she steals scenes better than antiquities. But for all of his film’s niceties, Johnson doesn’t seem to have any confidence.
Like an over-eager film student trying his hardest to be everything to everyone, Johnson winds up coming across as amateurish and insecure. Every scene takes itself way too seriously.
Channeling Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and a cadre of indie peers, Johnson wants badly to substitute style for substance. But he’s not fooling anyone. A postmodern attempt to have no temporal setting merely comes off as pretentious here (Brody’s neck-piece becomes extremely annoying). And in trying to stylize 15 cons and turns in the story, Johnson leaves his audience exhausted rather than involved. Shallow stuff.
That’s not to say that Johnson doesn’t show tremendous promise. He’s got the cultural competency and the bravery to be aesthetically bold. But he’s in need of a cleaner, straighter story that would better suit his ambitions. Con movies are too cumbersome. Make a movie about your dad or something, Johnson. Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” was a crappy caper, too. But look what happened to him.
In the end, “Brothers Bloom” is like any old magic trick. It looks neat, makes little sense and ultimately leaves us feeling flim-flammed — just like any traditional front-porch talk with a hipster.