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Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO — The con game as an art form get deconstructed in Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom” although with an emphasis on comic whimsy. A talented cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo should ensure a couple of hours of cinematic amusement — just think of all the great con-game movies of the past — but these “Brothers” come up with a relatively joyless exercise. Johnson gives no real definition to any of his characters, either in real or in con life, and the con games themselves, seen from the point of view of the perpetrators, seem like the inside of a watch — all soulless mechanics.
The actors work very hard at these ill-defined roles so some may at least appreciate that art form. Otherwise, boxoffice rewards are probably too slim to interest a major North American distributor. Summit is showing off the film in Toronto but may wind up distributing “Brothers” itself.
The film takes place globally in contemporary time but feels oddly old fashioned, even down to the dark coats and hats the two brothers wear as if they were ’30s era grifters. The conceit is that orphans Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) have been con artists since their childhood of multiple foster homes. Stephen, the elder, designs the cons like an accomplished novelist. He always gives the emotional heart to each story, the role of the sap who needs a break, to Bloom. But this temperamental younger brother chafes at the role; indeed he yearns for an “unscripted” life so he might discover his true character. He wants to quit.
Of course, the movie must have “one last con.” The mark is a charmingly eccentric New Jersey heiress, Penelope (Weisz), and the con is a convoluted scheme revolving around antiquarian books and smuggling. As things move from Jersey to Prague to Mexico and finally Russia, Bloom seems to discover real happiness in a romance with Penelope. But — heavy on the strings here — is this love or is it a con? Even Bloom seems uncertain.
Maybe Johnson is the con artist. He has constructed characters within characters and events that may be false or may be real. But you wonder if he didn’t get a bit lost in these labyrinths himself. His characters are always fictional, working off a list of prescribed behavioral traits that feel as phony as the dark suits and hats.
One yearns for real tension in the question of what is real and where lies the true heart of a con. Instead the film delivers light postures and fluffy games.
For the brothers’ sidekick and explosives expert, Johnson works around “Babel’s” Rinko Kikuchi’s lack of English by having her play mute. She proves to be a lively and engaging mime. But a couple of rather Dickensian supporting roles by Robbie Coltrane and Maximilian Schell fall embarrassingly flat as they are more creations of costumes and makeup than actual flesh-and-blood. But then the same can be said for the entire movie.
Production values in many international locations are superb.
Production companies: Endgame Entertainment
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell.
Director/screenwriter: Rian Johnson.
Producers: Ram Bergman, James D. Stern.
Executive producers: Wendy Japhet, Douglas Hansen.
Director of photography: Steve Yedlin.
Production designer: Jim Clay.
Music: Nathan Johnson.
Costume designer: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor.
Editor: Gabriel Wrye.
International sales: The Weinstein Co.
No rating, 115 minutes.
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