Long awaited in the wake of his 2005 debut Brick, Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom is a magic trick of a film; the second it's over, you want to see it again so you can try to catch how you were tricked, but you also want to see it again so you can return to the joy and wonder of being wrapped up in the nimble, deck-shuffling hands of a born showman. Watching it at first, some of The Brothers Bloom's creative and thematic elements seem like they're on loan from Paul Thomas Anderson (opening narration by Ricky Jay, pop-whiz-bang camera work, the troubled-but-tender relationship between the two brothers) while others feel as if they've been cribbed from Wes Anderson (deadpan confessions, whimsical set design, a parallel-universe setting where people still travel to Europe by steamship). The truth is, as much as The Brothers Bloom may feel like it's cribbing from other films at first, this is Rian Johnson's movie, and even if my more dreary and discerning critical faculties told me the final act goes on, perhaps, a beat too long, my inner moviegoer was sitting bolt upright, smiling, bright-eyed and carried away.
Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) have grown up on the make, in a world of, as Jay's stage-setting narration puts it, "... grifters, ropers, faro fixers, tales drawn long and tall. ..." Stephen builds cons; Bloom gets close to the marks. Stephen's work on their scams is a weird, lucrative form of self-expression; as Bloom puts it, "My brother writes cons the way Russians write novels. ..." Bloom's work on their schemes is a weird, lucrative form of self-loathing; Bloom learns early on that playing a part means never having to be yourself, that he, when " ... being as he wasn't, could be as he wished to be." Stephen wants more. Bloom wants out.