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What to See – The Brothers Bloom

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Summertime, and the plot lines are easy… maybe a little too easy. Save the mutants. Save the Enterprise. Save John Connor. At this point, you might need saving yourself. Your local multiplex is bursting at the seams right now with stories of muscle-bound heroics, but isn’t it possible to have a movie that’s not only fun but smart? One that has laughs and surprises, but doesn’t groan under the weight of a bloated budget or desperately strain to mesh with a cross-promotional marketing plan?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Brothers Bloom. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play the title siblings, smooth and stylish con men. Ruffalo is Stephen, the overly-enthusiastic plotter and planner; Brody is Bloom, the reluctant front man. The Brothers Bloom sounds like almost every other con film — Bloom wants out, but Stephen has one last score planned to take a housebound heiress (Rachel Weisz) for everything she’s got — but the feel of the movie is so different, so elegantly eccentric, that you know you’re in for something special, from the rhythm and rhyme of the opening narration (which sounds like Dr. Seuss by way of Guys and Dolls) to the playful, hip visual design and the breezy brilliance of the script.

And the fact is that The Brothers Bloom knows it has a fairly standard con film plot, which is how it suckers you; while you’re racing ahead to predict the next complication or betrayal, director-screenwriter Rian Johnson (Brick) is really just applying the magic of misdirection to sneak in brilliant jokes and heartfelt truths about brotherhood, storytelling, life and love. The Brothers Bloom looks like it’s trying to lift your wallet, but it turns out to be going for your heartstrings.

The success of the movie also owes much to the skill of its actors. We know Ruffalo’s got a hidden agenda; Ruffalo’s sly smarts make it clear that he’s got even more surprises in reserve. Brody’s sad-sack demeanor is well used at the start of the film, but his performance builds as we realize that this Bloom may be fooling himsef, too. Weisz’s Penelope is also a great performance: Penelope has a few tricks up her sleeve, too, including the possibility that she’s not hiding anything. Weisz also has what may be the best single physical comedy montage of the year, as she demonstrates how she “collects hobbies” in a series of shots you have to see to believe.

The trio’s work as actors is why by the end of the movie — when the fun and games are revealed as more than fun and games, when the big con has surprises even for the people who think they’re on the inside of it — we’re not enjoying The Brothers Bloom as just a well-executed trick or a cleverly-crafted con but instead as a story about storytelling, and as a fable about love. The Brothers Bloom may not have razor-sharp claws or a spaceship or heavy-metal weaponry like the other members of the class of Summer ’09, but they’ve definitely got the brains, guts and heart to mark them as the most dynamic and impressively distinctive duo of the summer so far. 

To get an alternate movie review of The Brothers Bloom, go to AMC Filmcritic.com.

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