It’s never a bad time for a caper movie. Need drama? They’ve got it. Need suspense? Yup, they have that, too. Even the comedy base is covered, as something will always go wrong. Hilariously wrong.
Rian Johnson’s 2008 film, “The Brothers Bloom,” is a great example of the genre. However, the film isn’t great in the way the “Ocean’s” movies or “The Italian Job” are. Those are the apex predators of their specific niche. Rather, “The Brothers Bloom” is an expansion on the caper genre, choosing to show us not just the planning and execution of a crime, but the effect that all that scheming has on a person.
The film opens with the introduction of the two brothers Bloom: Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody). I guess we just assume that one of them has the misfortune of being named “Bloom Bloom.”
As boys, the two were bounced from foster home to foster home, mostly because their new foster parents would always find their penchant for larceny too much to handle.
We aren’t shown the execution of their first con: tricking a bunch of kids out of their allowance. However, Stephen brings up the idea again when Bloom finds himself unable to talk to a girl. That way, he can get the money and the girl.
Soon Bloom discovers that the only way he can feel at ease is if he’s pretending, and in doing that he loses the only chance he had for a real relationship.
Therein lies the theme of “The Brothers Bloom.” Bloom, for all of his life, has been a character in Stephen’s schemes. He can play a confident smuggler or a daring bandit as long as it’s for money, but when he removes that mask, Bloom is effectively a nonperson.
That, the film says, is a result of having your life written out for you. After all, if you know exactly what is going to happen and what your reaction will be, has anything happened at all?
To find his own “unwritten” life, Bloom quits the con-artist trade and runs away to Montenegro. However, Stephen refuses to let him go before executing one last con. The target: a fabulously wealthy heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). Now all Bloom has to do is pull off this con without falling in love (Yes, I know. I gagged a little too.)
While the concept of a sad man without an identity sounds depressing, the movie is anything but. In fact, the opposite is true.
“The Brothers Bloom” moves with a chipper, upbeat tempo. The action is silly, and the plans are sillier. Besides Bloom, all of the main characters just radiate positivity. Stephen carries himself with a swagger, a half-smile on his face. Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) – the mute, Japanese psychopath that accompanies the brothers on their exploits – might have a dangerous obsession with high explosives, but she acts with such an aloof and carefree attitude that she almost makes you forget she could kill you.
Even the mark, Penelope, goes through life with such wide-eyed naivete that it’s impossible to not like her.
During its first two acts, “The Brother’s Bloom” appears to be a regular caper film ratcheted up to 11. It’s all there: exotic locals, mysterious, gun-toting strangers and valuable goods to steal.
Yet we’re constantly reminded that it’s all fake: painted, two-dimensional background that’s being used to impress Penelope. Those mysterious gunmen are just hired actors with blanks. Stephen, Bloom and Bang Bang aren’t actually antique smugglers, and the 1200- year-old illuminated manuscript they have to steal from the catacombs of Prague is just a cheap book stuffed in a crawl space in a Czech clerk’s office.
Sure, Stephen and Bang Bang may not be faking their personalities, but they’ve fabricated everything else.
As a film audience, we go along with the ruse. Everything’s fake, but that’s okay, because it’s fun.
However, it all comes crashing down in the third act.
What “The Brothers Bloom” tries to do in its final part is ambitious, and I like it a lot. The line between con and reality blurs. Everything becomes sharper and more dangerous. We no longer look at those gunman as props, but as real, serious threats. The happiness is gone.
It is in this moment that “The Brothers Bloom” reveals the endpoint of its high-minded intentions: a sort of deconstruction of the caper genre and what it means to someone who has been fake for his whole life.
Yet, in this regard, the film ultimately fails. The final half hour, wherein all this important development happens, feels rushed and overdone. The tone should change quickly, but the film shifts gears just a little bit too slowly. The pacing is odd, and the only real danger we’ve seen (not to spoil anything) is momentarily shown halfway through the film and brought back for only a few moments in the end. He doesn’t even show up to the so-called “final showdown.”
Yes, I realize that the ultimate opponent is Bloom’s inability to function without Stephen, but the villain should feel more real than it does. If we are to assume that the third act is about reality, why does it feel so fake?
That being said, it’s still a very fun movie, and that’s all you can really ask of a good caper. It isn’t anywhere near as good as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t suck. And that’s enough for this blog.