The Brothers Bloom (Johnson, 2009)

In one way or another, every film manipulates the viewer. It’s the essence of the beast. Yet Rian Johnson’s sophomore effort The Brothers Bloom folds the art of trickery onto itself, morphing what begins as a charming con man story into a prolonged and sometimes irritating series of plot twists, character reversals, and thematic revelations.

Bloom begins with a whimsical prologue introducing the brothers as children, and we get a glimpse of the rules/roles of the con game they will soon perfect. Johnson then cuts forward, Steven (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) now legends in the confidence game and ready to pull off one final job on a wealthy eccentric named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). From here on out, the characters become secondary to the shifty narrative, submerging the themes of sibling rivalry and conflicted identity underneath an ocean of manipulation.

As with Johnson’s shifty debut Neo-noir Brick, The Brothers Bloom seeks to cleverly revitalize a lost genre, this time the Screwball Comedy. But the results are much the same; a sometimes convoluted, sometimes invigorating exercise in nostalgic recognition.

During its most concise moments, The Brothers Bloom works beautifully as a character study of two brothers coming to grips with their past traumas. At its worst, the film looks and feels like a Wes Anderson rip-off, from the snap zooms to the drawn inter-titles and quirky supporting players. Once again, Johnson appears to be trying too hard to sell material that’s already solid in a pure form. For every exciting step forward, he seems to take two back toward cliche.