The Brothers Bloom takes the structure of a caper movie—with two con men, their accomplice, and their mark at the center—but that’s not what is. The con isn’t the point of the movie any more than it’s the point for the con men. Stephen, the mastermind, is an artist. In the words of Bloom, his brother and longtime partner in crime, Stephen “writes cons like dead Russians write novels.” But Bloom has tired of playing parts in Stephen’s games, no matter how well written they might be. He feels lost, without his own identity, and he struggles to find the words to express his frustration: “I want—” “You want an unwritten life,” Stephen provides. Bloom emphatically agrees, repeating the words, and then his face falls. Stephen winks.
If you don’t find that exchange utterly charming and poetic, you’re never going to like this movie. Hell, you’re never going to get through the prologue, a fable-like tale from the brothers’ childhood, narrated in verse (verse!) by the incomparable Ricky Jay. Writer-director Rian Johnson has no use for realism and no aversion to contrivance. In fact, he embraces the contrivance, toying with it and admiring it, because in the end, this is a story about contrivance, a story about storytelling: fictions we tell about ourselves and fictions we tell to ourselves, fictions that confine us and fictions that expand our world, fictions that remain fictions and fictions that come true.
For all its ambition, The Brothers Bloom doesn’t quite reach the heights Johnson is aiming at, but it has such warmth and so much color that its shortcomings don’t bother me much. True, I’m a sucker for this kind of movie—the self-conscious, hyperstylized, but exquisitely heartfelt melodrama—but Johnson really does have a flair for language, its rhythms and subtleties, and with such a talented cast breathing life into the artfully crafted turns of phrase, The Brothers Bloom is a joyful, winsome experience.