‘The Brothers Bloom’ movie review: Prague-shot caper from Rian Johnson

I really wanted to like The Brothers Bloom. I loved Brick, director Rian Johnson’s previous film, a highly original piece of high school noir that has quickly become a cult item. I have a lot of admiration for stars Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, two of the better American actors of their generation. Rachel Weisz is usually fun, even in the Mummy movies. But this film just didn’t come together for me.

A prologue narrated by Ricky Jay introduces us to the brothers as children: foster kids moving from home to home, Stephen concocts detailed con games which star his brother Bloom. The cons keep the victims in the dark and leave everyone satisfied, everyone except Bloom, who knows better.

Thirty years later and the brothers Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are still con men, trained by Fagin-like Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell), travelling the globe to perform detailed schemes that still leave everyone satisfied. Except for Bloom: he decides to call it quits.

But Stephen ropes him in for one more con, the old standby last job before he can finally retire. Their target is rich New Jersey heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). With the assistance of Bang Bang (Babel‘s Rinko Kikuchi), the brothers will win her over and take her on a global adventure that might leave her a million or so lighter in her wallet, but will show her a grand time.

Only problem: she gets a little too much into the adventure. And Diamond Dog, the brothers’ former mentor, is now seeking revenge. The film looks great. 

Especially scenes shot in Prague, which is where the brothers stop for a good portion of the scheme. Lots of films have shot in Prague during the past twenty years, but few have captured the contemporary city so well. Costumes and set design are also excellent, giving off a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe, showcasing a filmmaker in control of the look of his film. 

The story here, however, is another matter. The con man movie is a well-worn genre, filled with modern classics like The Sting and The Grifters (the initial con the adult Bloom and Stephen seem to be pulling is taken from here) and a good portion of David Mamet’s filmography. The best of these movies work because they convince us along with the marks: we’re drawn into the characters and their world, into believing something, and while we might know there’s a twist coming – in this genre, there always is – we’re still surprised. That’s the real con. 

The Brothers Bloom doesn’t work like that. It’s a disarmingly straightforward movie that consistently kept me aloof: is she in on it? Is he in on it? Is this real or part of the con? It’s easy enough to follow but never provides the revelations we expect, and by the end they’ve built up to a disappointment. 

You might say the film works as a counterpoint to the usual con man movie, but I just don’t think it works at all. I also had a problem with the character work. 

The actors are always watchable, but the characters they play feel unnaturally quirky and cool and keep us at a distance. It’s a smug and self-satisfied movie that never grounds itself in anything real. 

While I was involved in the con I was never invested in the characters; by the end, an emotional response is expected, and it just wasn’t there for me. As the credits rolled, I was frustrated. 

These are the same complaints I hear thrown at Wes Anderson’s films; films I’ve really connected with. It’s likely a personal thing. The Brothers Bloom has been largely well-received elsewhere, and it’s something I’ll be happy to revisit down the road.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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