Movies: The Brothers Bloom **
Published 04/06/2010 | 05:00
The Brothers Bloom reminds me of those symbol-laden middle-European novels from the first part of the past century that had falling men and floating hats on their covers and seemed like a great idea until you started reading them.
So self-consciously literary is this film that it goes to the extreme of calling its two central characters Stephen and Bloom, presumably in a clumsy reference to Ulysses. The tone of The Brothers Bloom is thoroughly magic-realist and, although it takes itself extremely seriously at times, it's also something of a comedy.
In a stylish prologue we meet the brothers Bloom as children, orphaned waifs who are passed from foster home to foster home and learn how to fend for themselves by becoming accomplished con artists. When they grow up, the boys become high-stakes tricksters who pull elaborate stings involving choreographed death scenes to swindle big money. But while older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the mastermind, younger sibling Bloom (Adrien Brody) has begun to tire of it all.
When Bloom retreats to a Montenegrin island to hide, Stephen finds him and persuades him to take part in one last caper. Stephen has targeted an orphaned and reclusive multi-millionairess called Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). They will encourage her to become involved in a complex story featuring secret agents and a priceless book, at the end of which the brothers Bloom will be almost $2m the richer. But when Stephen starts to fall in love with the guileless recluse, things get complicated.
Writer-director Rian Johnson establishes a kind of 19th-century circus atmosphere, and draws decent performances from Brody and Weisz. Ruffalo is a very fine and often underrated character actor, and it's nice to see him being given such extended screen time.
If only it had been in a better film, because for all its superficial cleverness The Brothers Bloom is too dreary to be charming, and too badly written to entertain or convince.