Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

The Brothers Bloom (2009): I've been recently fascinated with the concept of story. This is partly due to a recent junior high teaching series on the narrative of Scripture, partly due to Donald Miller's latest book. Maybe these are soundings from the stirrings in my heart, a not-so-midlife crisis of identity and pondering of the future. Now a quarter-century old, with a house and a son, I'm wondering where my story is leading, what kind of a character I'm becoming, what kind of a plot is being written. Yeah, some might think 25 is quite young to be thinking like this, that I've got quite a ways to go in my story. Yet I want to start living the best possible story now. I want my life to be written well.

Director Rian Johnson's sophomore film makes a similar claim--that story and life are the same, that we create our own narrative and fulfill the role as a title character. Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) learn this truth at an early age, but choose to take it one step further--if they can create a story for someone to live out, they could swindle a whole lot of money out of 'em. Their entire lives become recreated epics, with Stephen as screenwriter and director and Bloom as the tragic hero. Together with their silent demolitions expert Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they sweep unsuspecting millionaires into their contrived story until they can finally con them out of their wealth.

Eventually Bloom tires of living someone else's story. He's tired of playing a role in Stephen's elaborate schemes. Yet Stephen has one final con for the pair, an eccentric heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz) who is living an incredibly boring existence inside her east-coast mansion. Bloom instantly is attracted to Penelope, but as the plot gets decisively more complex, everyone is left wondering who is running this con. There are Russian mobsters, a suspicious Belgian, former con artists, and plenty of other fun details. This is a film about details, where camels walk around in the background and cameos by Brick's Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Nora Zehetner require the viewer's full attention.

Stylish and mildly cerebral, this feels like a Wes Anderson film, only a bit more fun. I loved Johnson's re-imagining of the noir genre with Brick; this film plays like a classic caper filled with twists and turns, romance and intrigue. The scenes are colorful and rich, with beautiful settings like Athens, Prague, Montenegro, and St. Petersburg. The actors give charming performances--particularly Weisz--and the plot moves along at a steady pace. My only complaint is that there are a bit too many " this just another con?" moments, which can become tiresome by the climax. With so much deceit, it's difficult to trust any of the characters' motives by the conclusion.

At one point, Penelope is showing Bloom a home-made camera she made out of a watermelon (like I said, she's eccentric). She makes a passing comment about her watermelon-captured photographs that encapsulate the entire plot of the film: "It's not reproduction. It's a lie about the truth. It's storytelling." This entire film walks in the tension of realism and fantasy; there's no way this could ever happen, yet we want to believe that our lives can be stories as epic as the characters onscreen. I'm convinced they can. When I talk with friends who have started their own non-profit organizations to end extreme poverty, or hear the dreams of a junior high student filled with a passion for the things of God, I know that our stories don't have to be false. We can be caught up in a greater Story, written by the most creative Author around. The Brothers Bloom puts it this way: "There's no such thing as an unwritten life. Just a badly written one."

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