Dawson’s Creek meets The Big Sleep – that was writer-director Rian Johnson 2005 debut movie Brick, a film noir thriller set in a California high school where the students went around speaking the kind of hard-boiled dialogue last heard coming out of the mouth of Humphrey Bogart.
To get a handle on Johnson’s second movie – globetrotting con-men comedy The Brothers Bloom – try imagining The Sting remade by Wes Anderson. It’s quirky, it’s clever, and it will have some viewers coming out in hives.
Ruffalo’s Stephen plans the duo’s cons, concocting elaborate plots as though he were a Russian novelist (his stories come complete with thematic arcs and embedded symbolism).
But Brody’s Bloom has tired of the game. He yearns for “an unwritten life”, one in which he’s not playing yet another role fabricated by his older brother.
Stephen, however, talks him into one last con, the bamboozling of Rachel Weisz’s reclusive, naïve, and very eccentric New Jersey heiress, Penelope. The scheme involves the theft of a rare book from the castle in Prague, but the enterprise takes the trio, accompanied by silent sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), on a roundabout jaunt with stops in Montenegro, Greece, Prague, Mexico and St Petersburg.
En route, Bloom and Penelope fall in love. But with Stephen penning the labyrinthine, deceitful plot, what hope is there for a happy ending?
I’m not convinced that Johnson fully pulls off The Brothers Bloom, but I admired the film’s cleverness and wit. Set in the present but with a perfectly judged retro feel, it looks fabulous too.
There are great visual gags – notably in the montage sequence showing off the offbeat skills Penelope has acquired in her pursuit of wacky hobbies ranging from pinhole photography using watermelons to juggling chainsaws.
Even so, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Oscar-nominated for her role as a deaf teen in Babel) almost steals the film with her deadpan presence as Bang Bang, the gang’s explosives expert. And there are striking cameos from Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane.
But as the narrative unfolds, there are just too many twists to the corkscrew plotting and by the end the film’s cleverness and wit is paying diminishing returns.
On general release from 4th June.