As far as con men stories go, I think I've heard them all: Grifters, ropers, faro-fixers, Tales drawn long and tall. But if one bears a bookmark, In the confidence man's tome, It would be that of Penelope, And of the Brothers Bloom.
— First lines of the opening narration, The Brothers Bloom
Directed by Rian Johnson, The Brothers Bloom is a caper film about two brothers who've worked together as con men for their entire lives. At the top of their game, the younger brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) finds himself increasingly reluctant to do shady deeds. His older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) persuades him to do one last con, accompanied by their regular accomplice Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), with eccentric heiress Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz) as the mark. Naturally, Bloom falls head over heels in love with Penelope.A classic caper film in many respects, the Brothers Bloom offers all the twists and turns you might expect. It also offers engaging characters, fantastically sharp dialogue (something of a Rian Johnson trademark), and some interesting examinations as to the nature of storytelling. Oh, and lots of scenery.
This film provides examples of:
Action Girl: Bang-Bang, the "muscle" of the group, is a slender Asian woman who shows a proficiency with firearms and explosives.
Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted and parodied. The escapee is foiled by the air vent traveling directly through the rooms of the building, instead of in the ceiling. The air vent then collapses as she falls into a room filled with cops (who were drawn there by the noise).
Anachronism Stew: The world of the film is charmingly timeless, featuring set and costume design evocative of eras from as early as the 1920's to modern times.
Book Ends: The film opens with a sun popping up from the horizon and a car driving on a long rural road toward the camera, and ends with Penelope and Bloom driving away from camera as the sun pops back down.
Brick Joke: Penelope says near the beginning of the movie that whenever she sees someone doing something she likes, she learns how to do it. After spending half the movie with Bang Bang, she shows off her own new found skills with plastic explosives.
Briefcase Full of Money: Subverted. Stephen uses a cashier's check, and scoffs at the idea of a briefcase full of money, saying that only Russian mafia men and Hollywood spies use still use them. Later, a Russian mafioso indeed shows up with a briefcase full of money.
The Cameo: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the party scene... for no discernible reason. Also in the party scene are Brick alumni Noah Segan and Nora Zehetner.
Easter Egg: Much like in the DVD for Brick, the Brothers Bloom DVD has an easter egg in the form of one of Rian Johnson's early short films, in this case a silent comedy in the style of Buster Keaton. To find it, put the cursor on languages (but don't select it), press left three times, and right once.
Even Evil Has Standards: Up until the job with Penelope, the Brothers Bloom have never targeted women with their cons.
Facial Dialogue: Remember how we mentioned that Bang-Bang was a Deadpan Snarker? Yeah... she manages to do this using nothing but body language, facial expressions, and only three words of spoken dialogue. And one of these words is a Drink Order!
The Fixer: Stephen, the elder brother who plans all the cons. Not so much doing it for the money, as much as he just really wants to write a good story and make it real.
Flopsy: How Bloom meets Penelope, in a marriage of the classic con and a deliberate invocation of Meet Cute.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you pause the film when Stephen and Bloom are sitting in a bar in New Jersey discussing their last con, you can see the entire plot up to Mexico outlined on the piece of paper on the table in front of them.
Lonely Rich Kid: Penelope's life could be described by this trope. After the results of an allergy showed her to be allergic to pretty much everything, she was housebound for her childhood and adolescence. As it turns out, she was actually just allergic to the aluminum alloy used for the test's needles.
Mad Bomber: How do you think Bang-Bang got her name?
Meaningful Name: Bloom develops from a dependent prop in his brother's cons to his own person. The brother blooms.
A Minor Kidroduction: Bloom and Stephen are introduced at ages 10 and 13, showing them bouncing from foster family to foster family.
Nice Hat: Bloom and Stephen have been wearing them since they were kids, and Penelope and Bang Bang seem to pick up the habit while travelling with them. This adds to the film's charmingly timeless style.
Opening Monologue: The opening of the film, a flashback to the brothers' childhood, is narrated by actor and magician Ricky Jay. The narration and dialogue actually fit together in verse.
Narrator: They were the they, all well-loved, rooted, happy as you please.
Narrator: Always there in every town—
Young Stephen: Playground bourgeoisies.
Precision F-Strike: The other two of Bang-Bang's three spoken words (other than the aforementioned Drink Order), is "Fuck me!" when they accidentally blow up part of the castle. Penelope's line, "I think you're constipated... in your fucking soul," could also count.
Riddle for the Ages: We never find out what Penelope said to the police to get them to release her.
There's also no way of knowing when Penelope figured out it was a con-job; her reference to the Melville story suggests she may have known from the beginning.
The Roper: Bloom, who begins to struggle with the emotional consequences of luring people in for the con.
Shotacon: Diamond Dog (in the worst possible way), although it's mostly subtext, and only becomes canon through the deleted scenes.
Shout-Out: Stephen includes a shout-out to Herman Melville's The Confidence Man: A Masquerade in his con. It's implied that all of Stephen's cons, which he considers works of art, contain shout-outs.
Silent Bob: Bang-Bang is expressive enough to have largely evolved past the need to speak. Interestingly, the actress had previously played another mute character in Babel.
Technology Marches On: Alluded to (and ultimately subverted) in the DVD commentary. Director Rian Johnson mentions that he's polling Twitter for questions that people want answered during the commentary, and comments that doing so will sound ridiculous in five years, comparing it to as if he'd talked about Friendster on the Brick commentary. 6 years later, and Twitter is still alive and well.