Brothers Bloom, The (2009)

Rated: A-C-BA=A-
Length: 114 minutes
Grade: PG-13 for violence, some sensuality and brief strong language.
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $5 million (4 U.S., 1 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Rian Johnson (Brick)
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi.

Two orphaned brothers become great con men and eventually wind up trying to con a wealthy but supremely knowledgeable heiress.

Entertainment Value: A-
The characters here are completely fascinating. The acting is fabulous. There is serious content here and also whimsy that made me laugh and laugh and laugh. The use of music was stunningly appropriate. Plus the themes and thought value made this one of my recent favorite little movies. I have no explanation for its dismal box office performance.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C+, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C-, Language D+
Language alone is PG-15 and sadly unnecessary. There is a lot of fake and some real violence. There are some sexual situations but the only nudity is one fleeting image from behind. There’s one scene of the morning after a drinking party and casual drinking with meals.

Significant Content: B
The main concern here would be the constancy of lying and deception (plus criminal fraud) portrayed as acceptable and rewarding. However, the other messages of the movie and the overall point cast significant doubt on this lesson. Lying and fraud turn out to be real problems for all of the main characters eventually. Other themes and ideas have to do with the nature of life as an adventure, love being predicated on honesty, and films as con games.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I really enjoy con movies because they’re so psychologically interesting. In this genre, the examples of greatness abound. The Sting, Grifters, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Glengarry Glenross, Tin Men, House of Games, Usual Suspects, Heist, Oceans 11-13, Matchstick Men, Revolver, and Confidence are all quite good. Nevertheless, I must admit that this movie really captured elements of the con game psychology that I’d never seen before. The most particular distinction about this movie is the way it shows the difference between a character played by a person and the person himself, with Bloom in particular both frustrated at not being known and afraid to let himself be known for who he is. The other novel element he expresses is the unfulfilled frustration of living a life where the plot and endings are always scripted. Great stuff to think about here.

Discussion Questions:
~Is there any meaningful difference between a confidence game and a movie? Why do we get so angry at movies that we can’t “get into” very well? Is that because they are shoddy cons?
If a con works so that everyone gets what they want in the end, is it actually a con? How might someone who gets conned still be satisfied by the outcome he experiences, so long as he doesn’t realize he’s been had?
~Do you think Stephen is motivated primarily by money or by the thrill of having been victorious at a complicated task? Why might it be frustrating to someone like Stephen to be given money when he’s rather deceive someone out of it?
~What’s the difference between true love and a role you play? Is role playing (pretending to feel/be what you don’t/aren’t) ever a healthy component of a real love relationship?
~Have you ever been in a relationship where you would have to admit you were really conning the other person somehow? Was it satisfying? Why or why not?
~How difficult do you think it is for professional actors to establish their own identity apart from their roles?
~How does being deceived cultivate skepticism? Is the reason people who have been fooled before are so skeptical mere prudence or is it the pride of being unwilling to look foolish again?
~Why is it harder for con men to get conned? How might this help Christians in our efforts to elude the traps and cons the Devil sets for us?
~Would you rather have an unwritten life or a scripted one? How is the desire for scriptedness related to a belief in God’s omniscience?
~Who is really in control of Bloom’s life?
~What is it about Penelope that provokes Bloom’s conscience? Can you con a person who doesn’t idolize money?
~"There is no such thing as an unwritten life. Just a badly written one." What do you think of this idea?
~Do either of the brothers truly love each other or anyone else? What about themselves?
~What do you make of Bang-Bang? What does her relationship with Penelope say about either of them or the boys?
Overall Grade: A-
As I said, the genre is already filled with many fantastic movies. This is one more in a long line of gems.

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