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— Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger

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Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde offers an excitingly fresh and strong female lead. —Matt Anderson (review...)

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The Brothers Bloom, director Rian Johnson’s follow-on to his high-school noir indie hit Brick, is a refreshing roundup of all kinds of storytelling tricks from films of many genres: we get a round-the-world road movie served up with plenty of comic caper action, some romance, and there’s the “just-one-last-heist-and-I’m done-with-this-life” plot. It’s all wacky, good fun, and it’s mostly due to the giddily goofy script. Adrien Brody’s character, who is simply called “Bloom,” as if only his affiliation with his brother matters, barely carries the charm and tragicomical romance throughout the film, but his brother Steven (Mark Ruffalo) sags under the weight of his role by the end. In their grifting routine, which they have been refining since they were children, Steven writes the cons and deploys Bloom to carry them out; Bloom is continuously frustrated at acting out his brother’s elaborate scenarios and just wants to live “an unwritten life.”

Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival
Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival

The romance begins the moment Rachel Weisz steps into the frame with all the daisylike brightness of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall or Kate Hudson in Almost Famous. Penelope is the brothers’ final mark, an eccentric millionairess who “collects hobbies” (gymnastics, breakdancing, DJing, the bolero, among many) and doodles “Penelope the smuggler” all over a sheet of paper as a prelude to persuading them to add her to their team. They tell her they are antiques dealers; suspicion is cast when a mysterious Frenchman appears and warns her that the brothers may be a little less than legit.

It is Penelope, of course, who may force Bloom to break Steven’s cardinal rule: “Don’t fall in love with the mark.” He is drawn to her like a moth to flame, perhaps because of her winning innocence , or maybe it’s that her social skills are even more impaired than his. “Should I go?” Bloom asks when they have been talking for a while after their first face-to-face encounter. “No!” Penelope protests. “I really want to talk to you!” Long silence ensues.

What protects Penelope from the brothers’ arts of deception is not caring about the same things the brothers care about; this gives her a kind of cloak of immunity. When the brothers have scammed Penelope out of a million dollars and then botched part of their plot, they feed her a line about why the rare book they were attempting to smuggle out of a museum in Prague won’t reach its destination after all. Penelope dissolves into tears, not over the money she’s thrown into the apparently fruitless venture but at how sad it is that the man from Argentina won’t ever get his book.

Weisz' reaction to a simple compliment speaks volumes
Weisz’ reaction to a simple compliment speaks volumes

There’s some fine physical comedy by all the actors, but Rinko Kikuchi (the Japanese girl in Babel), who plays Bang-Bang, the brothers’ loyal sidekick and explosives expert, deserves special mention. She hardly speaks a word, but it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off her. And Rachel Weisz’ reaction to a simple compliment from Bloom is wordless but testifies volumes to the social awkwardness and isolation that has brought Penelope to this place at this time with these people.

A few fine soundtrack choices from Bob Dylan, The Band, Rod Stewart, and the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens sprinkle the soundtrack and add to the Wes Anderson vibe, but The Brothers Bloom is a more satisfying film than Anderson’s latest film The Darjeeling Limited (which I found so precious visually that the story seemed relegated to so much background noise, the expected clatter of train wheels on tracks). A subplot involving Maximilian Schell as a character named Diamond Dog was the only drag here; I felt the same way about the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse’s appearances in Raising Arizona. Ultimately, however, the brothers’ contradictory goals, the doubts about who was scamming whom, and the screenplay’s intellectual questions about acting and free will kept me guessing where things were going right up to the melodramatic ending.

  • Jana: Just saw the movie and loved the Dylan, Cat Stevens and The Band songs, however can't seem to find which ones they are, not listed on soundtrack. Help? June 21, 2009 reply
    • robin: cat stevens - miles from nowhere

      rod stewart - (i know) i'm losing you January 9, 2011 reply