Four agonizingly long years after his debut, the wonderfully hazy high school noir Brick, director Rian Johnson follows up with a whimsical crime caper-cum-love story that confirms his status as a burgeoning new talent with a great ear for storytelling. Those who found the smarty pants routines of Brick’s neo-noir netherworld insufferable will again find no respite here, for while The Brothers Bloom isn’t quite so teaming with knowing dialogue, it’s another all encompassing bubble world that’s just as intricately unreal.

Even in their humble beginnings as serially returned orphans – a stage setting parable lyrically laid out by Ricky Jay – Johnson immediately sets the brothers apart from the rest of the human race. Decked out in black suits and brim bowlers, there is something almost Dickensian about elder brother Stephen (Ruffalo) and young brother Bloom (Brody) who, here as children, pour scorn over what Stephen identifies as “the playground bourgeoisie” whose pocket money they are about to appropriate with their first con.

Flash-forward thirty odd years and the brothers have established themselves as masterclass grifters, who having picked up Bang Bang (Kikuchi), a Japanese hipster with a penchant for explosives, earn their living “writing cons as Russians write novels.” Cons laced with romanticism, poetic justice, and dramatic irony. The secret it seems lies in crafting a con so personalized that it invites the mark to participate to the point where they achieve a level of satisfaction (all anybody ever wants apparently) and exit of their own accord leaving the prize behind.

As both actor and audience to his brother’s artistry, Bloom tires of the theatrics and the lying and yearns for what he calls “an unwritten life.” Promising they will call it quits after the always-perilous one last job, Stephen engineers a scheme to relieve beautiful but eccentric heiress Penelope (Weisz) of her fortune, and all Bloom needs to do is string her along like a man in love without actually falling in love.

Of course you don’t need to be a Dostoyevsky to see where the story is going, but the earnestness of the performances and Johnson’s playful structuring of the con by chapters means you’re constantly off balance as to what’s real and what’s part of the grift. Brody cuts a wonderfully forlorn figure as the younger Bloom – a bumbling charmer of a man who exhibits great vulnerability. Elder brother Stephen Ruffalo skillfully manages to make what is in fact a severely underwritten role somehow seem enigmatic and bring balance to the dynamic. Rachel Weisz is the film’s heart and soul and as she begins to move beyond the brother’s influence, the script keeps you guessing as to which moments they are in control and which they are merely winging it. Kikuchi’s job is to simply look effortlessly cool at all times and in that she succeeds spectacularly.

As the last act rolls around the story does finally stumble somewhat with Johnson seemingly starting to buy into what the Brother’s are selling and he winds up too preoccupied with telling the perfect story instead of focusing on telling one that is simply interesting and entertaining. One reel too long and perhaps one twist too many, The Brothers Bloom is a film that’s less enjoyable the longer it goes on. While it does ultimately take some liberties with audience’s patience, it’s earned enough good will by that point to be forgiven for a little self-indulgence.

Much in the way of Brick, this is another complete and total flight of fancy from a man who clearly loves a good yarn. It’s a tall tale. It’s a shaggy dog story and how much of yourself you’re prepared to give over to its smoky mystery replete with storied criminal masterminds named Diamond Dog and dodgy Belgians played by Robbie Coltrane will directly dictate your enjoyment.

Starring: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell, Robbie Coltrane

Director: Rian Johnson

Runtime: 113 Minutes

Distributor: Endgame Entertainment

Rating: PG-13

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