I saw the trailer for The Brothers Bloom in an arthouse cinema when I was in high school. The trailer for the film painted a picture of a film that was energetic, funny, stylish and adventurous. For whatever reason, I couldn’t shake the film from the radar of my mind and became obsessed with it, all before seeing it.
I watched the 9-minute opening scene they released before the film’s premiere. It was the origin story of the brothers, as they were passed from home to home as orphans having to learn to fend for themselves. Rather than set a dark tone for the film, the narrator speaks purely in peppy prose for the first 9 minutes, introducing the Brothers B to the viewer as romantic gentlemen thieves from adolescence.
I saw the film as soon at it hit theaters, and it did not disappoint. I have probably seen the film more than any other film, as I have a pestering obsession with showing it to every person I ever meet. Each of them says the same thing every time: “That was so good! Why is it not more famous?”
And I always wonder the same thing. It is peppered with humor throughout, the plot twists more than a Twizzler; it has chemical romance, adventure, action, and clever cons, not to mention stupendous acting and beautiful cinematography. It is often accused of being overly stylized and ‘twee,’ with an overly-romanticized universe, but this has never seemed to be the case for me.
The story does exist within a universe which seems overly simplified, sure, but it must also be seen through that lens as well. It is not a dark, gritty crime thriller á la the upcoming Uncut Gems, but creates its own universe within which to thrive, and at this it excels.
Perhaps it is this very stylized poem of a setting that stirs something in me every time I see it. When Bloom is first meeting Penelope, he describes their past escapades of whimsy and antique hustling: “The air, like, before rain, the ions would line up, and you could just smell midnight trains to Paris and steamer ships and Calcutta bazaars…”
The way Adrien Brody half-whispers this line just makes me want to dive headfirst into the global antique dealing market, leaving eternally in the past this vanilla suburban life. They board steamer ships and hold hands in Prague, taking overnight trains across a timeless Europe, and then bounce up to Russia to smuggle a prayer book to the Russians. Bloom throws several “I’m out of the game for real this time! If you need me, I’ll be in Montenegro, drinking” tantrums, and each time his vacation is interrupted by a new development in the con.
Rian Johnson reached far and wide with this script, yet it never quite seems to overreach its capacity. The relationship between the brothers is raw and believable: the two love each other and hate each other, like all siblings.
To the pensive viewer, the film has a subtle existential undertone. Without spoiling the end, Stephen’s prediction that “You’re too scared to run off into the sunset, because real sunsets might be beautiful, but they turn into dark, uncertain nights” sure comes true in the most bittersweet way possible.
Rather than skipping daintily across a fluffy surface, the film takes the occasional dive into the brokenness of the world and the deep, troubling roots of the brothers. Bloom fears that he has become just a caricature in his brother’s scripted cons and wants freedom in “an unwritten life.” Is it given to him? The film closes just before giving it away, with he and Penelope fleeing to Brazil.
The film is packed with minuscule jokes running throughout and I probably caught a new one the first ten times I saw it. There’s a drinking camel (“That’s my new favorite camel!”) and a drunk Belgian (“Yah yah goot morning…I’m sorry for shooting you, I may have been drinking”). Or Stephen’s deadpan description of his former fling (“Last time I was in Prague I was in love. Pale skin. Long feet. So.”) Perhaps my favorite line in the entire film is,
“Mexico is — and I hate to simplistically vilify an entire country — but Mexico is a terrible place.”
Blink and you’ll miss one of the clever quips and running jokes reappearing throughout the film. I’m amazed that so many quality, clever jokes are able to be crammed into one single film and land so perfectly.
The overarching themes of the film stem from Bloom’s summation toward the beginning of the film: “My brother writes cons the way dead Russians write novels with thematic arcs and Embedded symbolism and shit.” And that’s exactly how the plot unfolds. The viewer is never quite privy to the endgame at play in Stephen’s mind until the very end, but suffice it to say, he pulls off his definition of the perfect con.
Yes, the sun may set into uncertain nights, but more than ten years later, the sun has yet to set on my excitement for The Brothers Bloom. It literally has everything a movie should, landing right where and when they should. The powerhouse cast carries along the fun, whimsical story to its perfectly timed ending. Few films have so much charisma yet remain vastly unknown by the public. Do yourself a favor and see my favorite film of all time.