“The Brothers Bloom” (2009)

Going to a movie is like dreaming in public. Images and sounds projected into a dark, curtained space; people whispering back and forth but mostly silent (if you’re lucky); faces turned all in the same direction, illuminated by the flickering light.

There are many ways to enjoy a movie. You can examine the philosophical points raised in it; you can let the pure visceral id experience of the action and images wash over you without delving too deeply; you can dissect it with the expert eye of a graphic artist or cinéast; Or you can view it as a writer, enjoying the plot and characters and how they interact. Or, of course, a little bit of some or all of those.

It may not surprise you that I primarily view movies as a writer. I love to pay attention not simply to what the plot points are, but in how they are told. How are the characters’ personalities and motivations explained to the audience? Does it depend on the dialogue and actions, or upon the actors’ craft? Do the choices that the characters make sense?

In other words, I love stories. I love telling them. I love paying attention to them.

The Brothers Bloom is a movie that is about a pair of con men brothers and the sequestered heiress that is their current target. It is also a love story, between one of the brothers and the heiress, just like many con movies before it; the question asked is the familiar, “Is he actually falling in love with her, or is it part of the con?” And it’s also, of course, a love story between the two brothers, who start out with the familiar tension found in paired confidence men; one of them loves the whole enterprise, and the other wants to get out.

The movie is also a philosophical treatise on free will vs. determinism, finding an answer to the question “Is it possible to live an unscripted life?”

But the writer/director, Rian Johnson, is far more inventive and lively than my simple description makes it sound. Bloom (Adrien Brody) is the younger brother, and I may have missed why the pair is collectively known by his name, and he is a lost soul, the deep thinker, the one who sees their life as nothing but lies. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the older brother and he embraces his role in the pair as that of a writer, imbuing their con games with themes, dramatic arcs, and subtext. Their target for the movie is Penelope (Rachel Weisz), who is beautiful but more than a little socially awkward since she’s lived her entire life on a ridiculous estate somewhere in a magical New Jersey. In pursuit of the con, the three of them, along with Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), their silent aid and explosives expert, travel to Montenegro, and Prague, and St. Petersberg; they travel by ship, and by train, and once by modern jetliner; part of the charm of the movie is its mix-and-match approach to technology and fashion.

I want to recap this movie, but honestly, it would be a dry and lifeless retelling. What I recall most are the small moments between the characters.

For example: Bloom saying goodbye to Penelope for the first time after she eagerly subverted the brothers’ script for introducing them to her. He stands outside the estate, mouthing the words of his script, and Penelope realizes that he’s leaving, after having given her a real (to her) honest conversation for the first time in forever. He reaches out to shake her hand while he speaks, and the camera cuts to a closeup that shows his thumb lightly rubbing her wrist and barely touching and reaching under the cuff of her sweater. Cut to her face, and a blush, as obviously an effect as the oft-parodied glint on a movie hero’s smile, paints her cheeks, and yet Weisz sells the look with her eyes.

Perhaps it’s because I am currently in the throes of love myself, but I felt that caress along with Bloom and Penelope. My life has seemed unscripted so often in the past, and it has left me wanting a better story, an honest story. I think I have found it, and it’s more than a bit shocking to see the emotional core on the screen of a downtown multiplex, told with idealism and humor but (there’s that word again) honesty, too.

This movie is fucking amazing.