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Ruffalo, Brody, and Weisz (Summit Entertainment)

Bloom is off

Movies | Con artist film doesn't give an audience anyone to root for

Issue: "Tiananmen massacre," June 6, 2009

Con artists! explosions! Beautiful women and dashing men! These things do not an entire movie make! Try telling that to Rian Johnson, though. The writer/director is very early in his career, but he's already bored with movies, having referenced most of them in his two-movie filmography.

Granted, Johnson's last movie, a tight little film noir called Brick, was terrific. With The Brothers Bloom, he's upped the ante to include two Oscar winners (Adrien Brody as a contemplative con artist and Rachel Weisz as his lovely mark) and a whole host of talented background players. The budget is bigger, the locations are prettier, the colors are brighter. So what happened?

The problem here is that when Johnson begins to tell the story of two brothers (Bloom and Stephen, played by Brody and Mark Ruffalo respectively) who spend their entire lives bilking the naïve out of their money, he doesn't give us a reason to root for them. Every great antihero, from Robin Hood on, has a reason to break the law, but for these guys, it's just a way of life. I'm not saying that those people don't exist. I'm saying I don't like them. Since there's no real moral engine moving the narrative, what's left is a kind of rich-kid sentimentalism-the sort that Wes Anderson likes to poke holes in with movies like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Rushmore, in which the spoiled characters have to face down their own mortality or personal failures.

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Christians can frequently enjoy watching movies in a non-Christian world, but they are going to be the first to see great big gaps in this particular film, rated PG-13 for violence (mostly fake), language (mostly mild) and innuendo (mostly sad). Though its own poignancies crumble apart, it suggests a deeper sadness: For the people it took to get this movie made, there was so little to believe in that a story about people fooling their loved ones sounded like something noble and fine.

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