After some thought, I’m convinced that whatever initial disappointment I had with The Brothers Bloom stemmed from my misapprehension that it is, at is core, a confidence picture. A clever riff on the formula perhaps–compare to Matchstick Men–but centrally concerned with flim flam. The Brothers Bloom, whatever superficial theme it may appear to have, isn’t really a grifter story.
The revelation I kept waiting for is that Penelope, the apparently uberwealthy recluse savant, as actually attempting to con the titular brothers. Or perhaps that she was in cohoots with Stephen in an elaborate plot to bring a little more reality into the life of Bloom. Or something.
But now I’m starting to think the longstanding status of Stephen, Bloom, and Bang Bang as confidence persons wasn’t really central to the story. Because what Bloom was really about is the tension between the balls-out artist-until-death and the more common art-hobbyist.
See, Stephen lives for his art. Scripting and then carrying out elaborate and satisfying cons where all the players get what they want. The financial payoff of the cons is important only insofar as it allows the lifestyle whereby Stephen and his crew can continue live to con another day. On some level (although it would have made a less coherent and effective movie), Stephen could have been a graffiti artist. Or a Se7ven-style serial killer. Or a Civil War reenactor. Or a heroin addict.
Bloom, on the other hand, wants to live for something other than his art. Although he certainly is good at, and on some level enjoys, playing Stephen’s protagonists, he wants a more real life than being a part of Stephen’s troupe.
The central dramatic device of the film is the same as in Trainspotting. Or Road Trip. Or Control. As in, you’ve got a person that really digs on a particular lifestyle for a while (e.g. cons, heroin, a particular romantic relationship, a band), but then decides to move on. [That's Bloom. Or Renton. Or Tiffany. Or Ian Curtis.] The person or people with whom he used to engage in that lifestyle, however, don’t seem to want him gone, in part because of a numbers game. [That's Stephen (and Bang Bang). Or Begbie. Or Josh. Or future members of New Order.] The lifestyle simply doesn’t work without the usual suspects. And so efforts are made to entice the individual seeking to move on to return. Ah, the drama!
So ultimately Bloom succeeds on its own terms, because it has the right sort of story arc and resolution you’ve come to expect from that central plot device. Bravo.
[It also succeeds because there's great chemistry between the actors, an extremely witty and quirky script and look, and the most adorable character Rachel Weisz has ever played.]