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The Brothers Bloom’s Guide to Storytelling

Anyone who tells stories – well, anyone who tells stories well – realizes several things early on: characters matter, the plot needs a natural ebb and flow, and resolution.  If you lack any of these threes, the story sucks and people don’t care.  But the people who get it – the oral storytellers, the writers, the photographers, even the best salesman – get this.  When you watch these people at work you learn something, not just what car to buy, or the adventures of the intrepid hero, or about how you think – but how to tell a story.  How to build characters, reveal the plot, and create a satisfying resolution.  Rian Johnson, director of the excellent film Brick, takes us into the world of Conmen and woman in The Brothers Bloom with the same premise: performing a successful con is simply telling a good story.  You give the mark what they want, and in return get what you want, their money.  The mastermind behind these plots, Stephen, remarks that point of the perfect con is to give everyone what they want.  And that’s what spurs the movie, the desire for the perfect con.

The premise is simple: Bloom, played by Adrien Brody, leaves the con game to live an “unwritten life” one not dictated by his brother’s cons.  Stephen, played by Mark Ruffalo, convinces his brother for one last con to swindle Penelope, played by Rachel Weisz, a shut-in billionaire heiress living in New Jersey.  The Brother’s put in a play a con leading Penelope on a smuggling adventure across Europe, giving her excitement for the first time in her life.  Naturally, Bloom falls in love Penelope and things get complicated.  The brilliant part of the Brothers Bloom is that Rian Johnson takes the fairly simple concepts, and presents them in a way that tells a more compelling story than the average con movie.  He brings you in with the quirky, offset dialogue and story about-a-con-but-not-really-the-con, but it’s the brilliance of the acting – especially Rachel Weisz – that keeps you in your seat.  Even when you feel lost and confused in the inevitably convoluted story (a must in any con movie) the quirky, heartfelt humanity brought by the cast keeps you grounded and feeling okay going along with every twist and turn.

To tell a great story, even an outlandish, whimsical one, requires a basis in humanity.  Something has to connect with the audience for them to buy the story.  If you don’t have it, you have no story.  If you got it, you have a great story.  Rachel Weisz, by performing a shut-in, hobby-collecting heiress, connects us to the story.  There’s something about her performance we can all connect with.  Her naïve curiosity and desire to go on an adventure (even an illegal one) is just damn infectious.  She’s the most engaging of the eclectic characters, and the one that grounds us to the story and the con.

The film gets away with a lot of ridiculous story points simply due to the elaborate con that drives the plot.  Johnson establishes early on we can’t trust what appears on screen, and by the end of the movie we keep wondering if events really happened that way, or did we just get conned.  However, Johnson mercifully doesn’t leave us hanging, but like any good story, ends the film on a definite note.  Giving us a satisfying ending and a great moral to take away: there isn’t an unwritten life, our life is the story we tell it just a matter of how we tell it.

  1. Stacy
    June 21, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Brody, Ruffalo, & Weisz!!! Three great, under-appreciated (well, maybe not Brody) actors that I love to watch. Let the con begin–will try to get out to see this one.

  2. June 22, 2009 at 1:14 am

    I know it’s playing over at E-Magine Theaters in Novi, where I saw The Hangover. It may not have the old fashioned movie theater of the Birmingham 8, but it’s still a fun theater! If only for the amazingly comfy seats.

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