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Film / The Brothers Bloom

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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 2008 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:

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  • 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Diamond Dog compares the Blooms' lives to navigating the labyrinth. In the next scene, the large neon sign in Cyrillic script behind him reveals that the bar they were drinking in was called "The Labyrinth."
  • 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.
  • Call-Back: Early in the film after a heist, Bloom tries to go into solitude only to be found by Stephen, who states that he learned of Bloom's whereabouts from Bang Bang. Later, when Penelope locates Bloom after leaving him three months earlier, she states the same, since she and Bang Bang traded phone numbers.
  • The Cameo: Brick alumni Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Noah Segan, Lukas Haas, and Nora Zehetner are at a party celebrating the successful conclusion of the Brothers' previous heist—and, metaphorically, the successful conclusion of director Rian Johnson's previous film.
  • The Cast Showoff: Rachel Weisz doing practically everything, and Rinko Kikuchi gets a karaoke scene.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang:
    Stephen: Tastes like tinfoil.
  • The Con: The name of the game.
  • Con Man: The eponymous brothers.
  • Creator Cameo: Producer Ram Bergman as a tactless partygoer who asks Bang-Bang if she likes animé.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bang Bang. See Facial Dialogue below.
  • Dying Alone: Stephen at the end.
  • 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: Bang Bang has only three lines of actual dialogue (and a karaoke musical number). The rest of her communication is through expression and body language.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Funny Background Event: Practically runs on this trope. The car, the palm tree, and...
    "That's my new favorite camel."
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Bloom and Stephen are talking about Penelope on the boat to Greece, Bloom mentions that she seems like a character Stephen created...
    Stephen: The day I con you is the day I die, Bloom.
    • Further foreshadowing on the same point, when Bloom is telling Penelope about the brothers' (fake) smuggling background:
    Bloom: Sometimes, I think he'd love to die on a job.
  • In Love with the Mark
  • Karmic Death: Stephen lived for the day he would commit the perfect con and, true to his word (see Foreshadowing) dies on this very day. It's even implied that actually dying is the con.
    • Bang Bang lived up to her name and may have literally gone out with a bang as well.
  • Last-Name Basis: Bloom, for reasons unknown.
  • 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.
    • Bang Bang likes explosives.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Bloom and Stephen are introduced at ages 10 and 13, showing them bouncing from foster family to foster family.

  • One Last Job: Stephen's promise to Bloom.
  • 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:
    • Two of Bang Bang's three words of dialogue are "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.
  • Rustproof Blood: Averted and lampshaded, becoming an important plot point.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Bang Bang decides to quit shortly after Penelope pays the ransom on Stephen's life only to apparently be killed in a car bomb explosion.
  • 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.
  • Silent Snarker: Bang Bang conveys a lot of attitude without dialogue.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: How Bloom meets Penelope, in a marriage of the classic con and a deliberate invocation of Meet Cute.
  • Technology Marches On: Alluded to (and ultimately averted) 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.
  • Unscrewed Salt Shaker: Bloom tries to shake some sugar into his coffee and it won't pour. In disgust, he puts it back down on the table. The sugar jar is instantly picked up by Stephen, who taps it twice on the table, then pours sugar into his cup of coffee. Still disgusted, Bloom picks up the jar after Stephen puts it down and pours... and the entire jar of sugar pours into his coffee.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Whether Bang Bang died in that car bomb explosion or simply faked her death is never truly made clear. The latter scenario is strongly implied by Bloom, though.