The Brothers Bloom is a dark "big con" comedy in The Grifters tradition. Writer-director Rian Johnson has a genre Jones, a literary bent and an ear for chewy dialogue. Brick, a film noir about a tough kid trying to solve a murder in his high school, was his debut. You probably haven't seen that, but it's worth renting.
Brothers Bloom is Johnson's homage to the great con-man dramedies of playwright-turned-filmmaker David Mamet, movies including House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner. Johnson even has Mamet's resident magician-hustler, Ricky Jay, narrate. If box-office returns are to be believed, you haven't seen those either, but they're worth renting.
So Johnson and his stars, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo, have made a willfully eccentric, instant cult film — a movie for big-con movie lovers, but a movie that's too clever for its own good and too long by about 20 minutes.
Brody and Ruffalo are orphaned brothers, con artists from an early age. One of the cute conceits here is that they wore black jackets and bowler hats, even as kids. Another conceit is that the younger brother (Brody), the lonely romantic who wants to get out of the game, is just called by their last name, Bloom. Brother Steven scripts their elaborate cons, invents names and monologues, and picks settings. Bloom just wants "to live a life unwritten."
Their "one last job" is an adorably odd and clumsy millionairess (Weisz, perfect). "I collect hobbies," Penelope says. She has mastered many skills even if she is socially awkward.
Steven (Ruffalo, winningly cast against type) wants to give her the "perfect con," in which everybody involved, even the cheated "mark," feels rewarded. In Penelope's case, that's a chance to fall in love with Bloom, to have "a grand adventure" scripted by Steven, which will cost her a million bucks. The sexy and silent accomplice Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) will help.
We travel from Jersey to Montenegro, meet other con men (Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell) and are regaled with big performances in service of a script that crosses from cute to "cutesy."
It's all a con, but thanks to Johnson's way with characters and dialogue, we don't mind the hustle so long as we're rewarded along the way.