Rian Johnson created quite a buzz with his low-budget debut, Brick. The Brothers Bloom is his much-anticipated follow-up. Well you can exhale, all you breathlessly excited Johnsonites. The news is not good. This thing’s a fizzer.
Not everyone thinks so, of course. Some critics have raved. The woman sitting behind me was shrieking her delight from the opening frames. Her shrill expulsions drilling through my cranium to rattle my teeth didn’t help my mood, it has to be said. But then, neither did the tiresome slapstick stunts that set her epiglottis all aquiver – eg: a reckless driver crashing her deluxe sportscar into her front wall; various sundry items being blown up for the hell of it. That’s the sort of obvious, clowny stuff Johnson has served up as humour here; there’s precious little wit in the dialogue.
It’s all about expectations for some, I guess. If you’ve made up your mind that Rian Johnson is the goods, chances are you’ll look for genius and see it whether it’s there or not. I can only think that the woman behind me had decided in advance that The Brothers Bloom was a comedy and thus dutifully responded with exhibitionistic hilarity at every cue.
For those fond of categorisations, The Brothers Bloom is a caper movie of the ‘One Last Big Job’ variety, and as such, it did have comic elements built in. Pity they didn’t work, because nothing much else did, either.
The story, in a nutshell, is of two orphaned brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) who as children are jettisoned from foster home after foster home for swindling petty cash out of other kids who fall for their scams. After a perfunctory and somewhat rushed treatment of this formative period, we skip forward 25 years. They have become consummate conmen in adulthood. Stephen is the mastermind, Bloom the one who engages the “mark” (victim).
It’s a struggle following the convoluted unfolding of the elaborate cons, and just when you think you’re on top of it all, you discover yet another con within a con. I don’t mind peeling back a few onion skins, but when it goes on layer after layer you start to tire. There is not enough reward for effort here.
It would have helped to feel some empathy for the characters, but I found them irritating. Nothing to do with the performances (which are fine), everything to do with the script. One character, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), occupies more than her fair share of screen real estate, yet does nothing but look cool and pout attitude. Her only line for the entire film (she doesn’t speak English) is a heavily accented exclamation: “Fuck me!” Mildly amusing, I suppose, but is she in the movie for this one gag? She doesn’t seem to perform any other function, other than to add a sprinkle of bizarre for bizarre’s sake.
Which brings me to another gripe – probably my main one. There’s a sense of self-conscious ‘cleverness’ that pervades this movie.
One of the early images that triggered a giggling fit from behind was a lame cat in a shoe-on-wheels propelling itself along the pavement Gondola style with a miniature crutch. OK, wacky, but so try-hard, so damned…forced! And so it is for the rest of the film, which postures as stylish Euro arthouse, but is built around very little real substance.
Then there is the ‘postmodern’ laying bare of the story-telling process. The movie is divided into titled ‘chapters’, each beginning with a scene on which is superimposed a hand-drawn image – the storyboard, as it were. Why? This meta-movie thing has been done to death. It’s not clever, not original. Frankly, I’m bored with this nudge nudge wink wink aspect of postmodernism. I KNOW I’m watching a movie.
Half way through, I was yawning, thinking about dinner and wishing I wasn’t hemmed into a packed row so I could quietly slip out. By the time the movie finished, I wished I had.
If Rian Johnson doesn’t come up with something a lot better next time around he may be headed back to small-budget indie land. And that may not be a bad thing.
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