Wednesday 10 September 2008

TIFF 2008 - The Brothers Bloom

I haven't been to a whole lot of gala premieres at TIFF. Most of the films that get that kind of treatment will likely be getting decent distribution deals, so there's usually ample time to catch up with them during a normal theatrical run. However, I don't have to deny myself immediate gratification...

I've pretty much been waiting for Rian Johnson's second film from the moment the credits rolled during my initial viewing of his first - the high school noir picture "Brick". So I needed to squeeze "The Brothers Bloom" into my schedule this year. As it turns out, I happened to pick the World Premiere screening with the director and three of the main cast members present for before and after film chit chat. Johnson was extremely affable and relaxed (bringing his cousin on stage to play a short ditty and to also provide the soundtrack to his life) and the trio of Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody seemed to be genuinely happy to be there (the two male leads even spontaneously danced together during opening remarks). So I can certainly understand why people go to the star studded events - it can provide a good deal of surprises and entertainment. I just wish I could say the same for the movie itself.

That's not to say that "The Brothers Bloom" is bad or that I didn't enjoy any of it, but it never fired on all cylinders for me. I kept hoping it would catch a spark and drag me along with it, but the pieces I liked were scattershot across the whole length of the film and it never developed the kind of momentum needed in order to ask your viewer to simply follow you anywhere.

The positives first...Rachel Weisz is absolutely charming and funny in her role as "the mark" and displays excellent comedic timing. Rinko Kikuchi is also a great deal of fun as the Japanese assistant who has been with the con men brothers ever since the day she just showed up. Some of the film's highlights are the little bits of comedy coming from the two of them - Kikuchi's deadpan reactions, Weisz's own reaction to her first kiss with Brody, etc. But if neither were on screen, things just weren't clicking. Johnson does find other ways of working in the comedic elements of the film by keeping the frame busy with little bits of silly business in the background like falling trees and wandering camels. His shots are also pretty dense with some nice production design touches, so there's typically lots to chew on visually.

The "one last big con" that brothers Stephen and Bloom are trying to pull on wealthy eccentric lonely Penelope (Weisz) is fine, though it never quite hooked me into its twists and turns. It was satisfying, but not something I'm going to savour. Both Brody and Ruffalo were perfectly fine in their roles and are very watchable, but neither of their characters were particularly memorable.

Where the film somewhat failed for me was in its rhythm. Johnson seems to fluctuate between the styles of Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson while also trying to work in absurdist humour, subtle comedy and heartfelt emotion. For a movie to succeed jumping all over the place like that, you really need to be willing to jump on board and just let it take you with it. Unfortunately after the opening scenes with the young brothers that gave the back story (narrated by Ricky Jay), I wasn't willing to hop on. The beats in the scene seemed to stutter and start, but it never got into a groove. Which brings us to the music...Fine on its own, the music and selected songs didn't ever seem to mesh with the story or the visuals - you could tell exactly what mood the music was trying to convey in any particular scene, but I didn't feel it ever accomplished its goals.

But that's subjectivity for you. While it never swept me up, the audience seemed to greatly enjoy it. I did like many parts of the whole and especially the sweetness brought to the love story by Rachel Weisz. Rian Johnson is obviously a very talented director and he has some great ideas. I hope he continues to mash up his influences for many films to come. Maybe I'll be in sync with him next time.


Anonymous said...

Interesting review, Bob. I completely agree with you (and you use the same metaphor) about having to let the director "take you along for the ride". I guess for me I was a little more willing to hop on board. It will be interesting to see what audiences think when it comes out.

Bob Turnbull said...

Yeah, that probably came across more negative than it needed to be, but I guess I had really wanted to get caught up in the film (trust me, I was willing to hop on). One could also blame my high expectations going in - not Rian Johnson's fault, but there you have it.