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Brothers Bloom a yarn of thieves and liars
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Brothers Bloom a yarn of thieves and liars
by Maggie Bloodstone - SGN Contributing Writer

The Brothers Bloom
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A couple years back, a book of highly unique and individual comic art was released under the title Art Out Of Time, a collection of graphic work from 1900-1969 that resisted categorization by a profit-driven industry and a readership interested in little more than a few fleeting moments of entertainment.

The Brothers Bloom is, in every sense, art out of time. Taking a cue from director Rian Johnson's brilliant Raymond-Chandler-goes-to-high-school debut Brick, The Brothers Bloom straddles several different genres and time periods from the Grimm's fairy tale-like opening to the bittersweet, not-exactly-Hollywood ending. It's part '30s screwball comedy, part '60s caper film, part '40s adventure serial, steeped in '90s indie spirit and served with '70s savvy - which might be why, like the comics The Wiggle Much and Hairbreadth Harry, it will probably have a tough time locating its audience. Your average spectator nowadays is strictly of the "Here we are now/ Entertain us" variety, with little time to ponder any creative work before moving on the next diversion. (They just don't make audiences like they used to.&)

Johnson's tale of fraternal fealty among flim-flammers trots energetically from the "one-hat town" of Stephen Bloom and Bloom's youth to Montenegro, to Greece, to Prague, to St. Petersburg, in pursuit of one last epic con before the baby Bloom (Adrien Brody) quits to seek an "unwritten life." The stage manager of their lives up to now has been Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), who "writes his cons the way dead Russians write novels" and who locates their "mark," Penelope (Rachel Weisz), the original madcap heiress who fills her idle moments teaching herself origami and chainsaw juggling. Bloom is smitten, and Penelope ends up an accomplice instead of a victim - for a while. Along with taciturn demolition expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they pull off an intricate heist with the assistance of "The Curator" (Robbie Coltrane) and cross paths with their former mentor, "Diamond Dog" (Maximilian Schell). But the story doesn't end there&.

Speaking to Bloom about his brother, Diamond Dog compares Stephen to Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff: "If you look down in doubt, you'll fall." While watching The Brothers Bloom, one would do well to incorporate that sentiment - if one's attention wavers from the action for a moment, one is likely to miss a vital plot point or a quip worth repeating to friends, or an intricate bit of detail in the rich background scenery (Johnson & Co. actually manage to make New Jersey look, well, exotic!). This is not a film for the passive - like a successful con, it requires participation and belief on part of the mark/viewer. But unlike a great con, the mark is rewarded instead of manipulated. Johnson clearly trusts his audience to catch what's going on with deceptively simple, cleverly applied nuances - even a throwaway gag with a sugar dispenser underscores the Brothers' contentious relationship and a reference to Dickens, plus a hand on a knee, says all one needs to know about their relationship with Diamond Dog without going into gratuitous (and revolting) detail.

Even when the action seems to flag at the two-thirds point, it's in the service of setting up the darker and poignant final act, which spirals into a truly wrenching, multi-layered denouement. And the performances are uniformly flawless; Brody works hapless and huggable with equal skill, Ruffalo exudes properly boyish vigor, Weisz is a firecracker in the Carole Lombard mold (though I doubt Ms. Lombard would have been filmed waxing orgasmic during a thunderstorm onscreen), and Kikuchi's mostly mute Bang Bang says more with a sideways glance and a carafe of nitroglycerin than most actresses can muster in an entire film. And the supporting characters borrow from the best sources - Coltrane's dyspeptic, trigger-happy Curator could easily have been played by Peter Ustinov in another decade, and Schell's Diamond Dog leaves a Vincent Price-flavored trail of slime across the screen even when only his voice is heard (though Schell portrays a considerably leaner slice of ham than Price ever could).

With Pixar whimsy, Star Trek dreck, and the interminable Terminator hogging the box office this month, The Brothers Bloom stands a good chance of being overlooked. In the '80s, it would have promptly become a popular midnight movie with a devoted, dialog-repeating audience, but technology and the persistent existence of sincere film lovers should make it a must-have DVD, with oodles of great special features. Seldom has a story so dependent on dishonesty and manipulation succeeded in being so thoroughly honest and so downright, gosh-darned sweet. (And did I mention the drunk camel and the one-legged cat yet?)
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