The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008) One of those ones that "got away" when I first started writing a movie blog; I'd wanted to see this in the theaters and it disappeared, just like your betting money, so quickly that there wasn't a chance. to make good on it. Johnson had been the enfant terrible behind the enfant terrible noir-film Brick, (which was a nicely designed but ultimately precious/pretentious conceit—a detective movie set in high school), and there was enough there to anticipate what he was going to do next. The last thing you'd expect would be this reality-twisting con-game movie at equal times ebullient and dark, densely written and skippily edited that tips its hat to the Tarantino era with all its style, but none of its sloppy excesses.
No, no. Don't get worried. It's also a lot of fun, especially in its puppyish wise-acre first hour that moves at such an unsustainable pace of quirk that the second-half doesn't have a chance to match it. That half-way down-shift initially feels like a let-down (and some unfortunate back-story editing robs the movie of some Peckinpavian resonance), but Johnson has to reveal the con at some point and the visceral let-down is inevitable. The motto of the movie (and The Brothers Bloom) is "the perfect con is when everyone gets exactly what they want." Johnson manages to pull that off...and quite brilliantly.
He's got great players to do it with. Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play the brothers (Brody's Bloom, and Ruffalo's his older brother Stephen), two orphan con-men locked in the game that informs and colors their lives. Their partner in crime is the mostly mute Bang Bang (the clever Rinko Kikuchi), and there's a network of con-men they tap into (but never really trust) including The Curator (Robbie Coltrane) and Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell)—a lot of Oscars in this cast—but the focus of the last of a series of Last Big Cons is Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz) an eccentric millionaire, isolated in her youth by a misdiagnosed allergy (to everything), and with whom Bloom becomes her first true friend. Weisz's peculiar choices in performance nicely buoy Brody's sad-sack (which he has perfected) and both Ruffalo and Kikuchi play off each other and the other actors with a kind of thrilling certainty of the world and their place in it (and ability to change it). Johnson's multi-plane action in frames (especially in the first half) approach the deft timing of a Warner Brothers cartoon
It's different, breaks the mold, keeps you guessing and stays with you until you make that last jump—that all movies are a con. And the best ones are the ones where people get exactly what they want. Yes.