Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Man on Film: The Brothers Bloom

As the Royals' season has tanked, I have found myself rediscovering the joys of reading and going to the gym. This has also kept me from the computer and, thusly, the internet.

What it hasn't done is gotten in the way of going to the movies.

Last week I saw three films in the theater, the first of which I'll write about tonight*.

*Tonight began as last night, but I fell asleep on the couch while trying to complete this entry. Pretty ridiculous, I know, but it happened.

Having heard a negative reaction to Rian Johnson's second film, my expectations were tempered. By the end of the prologue with its spot on Ricky Jay narration, writer/director Johnson had convinced me that my friend who shall remain unnamed was unequivocally wrong.

For those of you who may not know who Rian Johnson is, I'll bring you up to speed. His debut film, Brick, was a brilliant juxtaposition of a classic noir film in the setting of a present day California high school. Everything about the film could exist in the world that writers such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler helped create, except for the selection of setting. Sure, "Veronica Mars" had heavy elements of noir throughout the series, but at no point did it make the leap past having noir themes throughout. Brick was an enthralling breath of fresh air on the cinematic landscape. A film that showed a deep love for the language of a bygone film genre while contemporizing its setting. Not since Being John Malkovich had I been so impressed by so unique a voice.

The Brothers Bloom does for the grifter tale what Brick did for film noir. Just as in his first film, Rian Johnson has imbued The Brothers Bloom with a love for the language of the genre. Despite its placement in the present, TBB is every bit the classic tale of swindles, double-crosses, marks, and fast-talking con men.

Inherent in such a film is a lighter spirit than his prior effort, and this allows for the proper stage in which Mark Ruffalo may put his infectious enthusiasm on display. For the first time since You Can Count on Me, Ruffalo is given a film role in which his immense gift for comedy and his ability walk the line between affable and dangerous can once again be on full display. Where Adrien Brody's Bloom is the sympathetic lead (I hesitate to dub him either anti-hero or hero, as the character exists in the gray area in between), Ruffalo's Stephen is who we all really want to be. He is the mastermind. He is the magnetic force. He is what Ferris Bueller would have grown up to be if he had grown up fending for himself as a child.

As for the other cast, Rachel Weisz made me momentarily forget how mean she was to Paul Rudd. Rinko Kikuchi simultaneously embodied ambivalence and anarchic destruction with aplomb, stealing nearly every scene she was in while uttering nary a word (or maybe I'm fetishizing the Asian female, as we white males are wont to do).

Rather than go further into a reflection on the film, which worked on every level for me, personally, I'll go ahead and address the issues that my friend had with the film.

In short, he felt that the film was a shameless Wes Anderson rip off. For the first ten minutes or so, I attempted to find the basis for such an argument to be made. It took that long for me to dismiss the statement. Upon completion of viewing, it struck me as simply lazy. Such an argument would seem to suggest that Wes Anderson invented quirkiness. Past quirkiness, it seems to me the the films of Anderson operate from a world in which all those quirks arise from the source of stunted emotional growth. Nearly every central figure in Wes Anderson's films has been emotionally damaged and has troubles assimilating him or herself into society. Furthermore, the anachronism inherent in Anderson's works seems merely a function of his own predilection for inserting preciousness for the sake of amusement.

On both fronts, it would seem The Brothers Bloom does not fit. While each of the characters in the film may have issues, it does not feel at any point that their actions are driven by their social retardation. They are archetypes within the structure of the standard grifter flick. Sure, there have to be motives for the actions of characters, but it never feels like they are crippled by their pathos (aside from maybe Bloom at the end). As for the anachronism within, there is a tongue-in-cheek wink at many turns. What Rian Johnson so aptly achieves for a second time here is the marriage of an old-timey story with a contemporary setting. The anachronism here operates past the realm of decorative flair. Perhaps he is taking what Anderson does one step further, but there is an element of import that exists in the filmic sense that is largely lacking in Anderson's usage of anachronistic inserts.

All right, enough tangentially venting.

In short, I loved this film. I will fight you if you differ with my opinion. Or not.


Here's the trailer in HD, with admittedly shoddy music backing it.

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