Describing a movie as "quirky" more or less amounts to a critical bitch-slap these days, right up there with calling something "precious" or "twee." But it wasn't always so, and with The Brothers Bloom, writer/director Rian Johnson (who previously helmed 2005's creepily original noir Brick) revisits an earlier cinematic era—one in which eccentricity is interesting and quirkiness has yet to become synonymous with Natalie Portman in a helmet.
Bloom (Adrien Brody) and his elder brother Stephen (the ever-dreamy Mark Ruffalo) are high-stakes con men. Since childhood, when the two orphans bounced from foster home to foster home, they've shared a world largely of Stephen's making, in which everyone they meet is a potential mark. When Bloom decides he wants out, Stephen convinces him to pull one last con, on a wacky, reclusive rich girl named Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz).
In recent years, the role of the zany ingénue has largely been reprised as indie wish-fulfillment scenarios in which grown women act like cheerful toddlers, ones around whom even the wussiest hipsters can feel manly. With Penelope's character, Johnson is playing with a trope, and he makes sure the audience knows he knows it: Penelope's quirkiness is hilariously illustrated in a sequence in which she demonstrates her "hobbies," from piano playing to chainsaw juggling. It's a gentle joke to introduce a surprisingly complex character, and Bloom quickly falls for her, even as the two brothers orchestrate an elaborate scam involving European globetrotting, rare book smuggling, and mysterious one-eyed men. The underlying question—and one that stays persistently engaging throughout this fantastic film—is to what extent Bloom is being manipulated by his brother, and at any given moment, the audience knows no better than Bloom where the truth lies.
Bloom will inevitably draw comparisons to the films of Wes Anderson, but Johnson's got a cerebral, restless style all his own, accented by sight gags, stunning costumes, a goofy sense of humor, and an uncompromising storyline that stays surprising and compelling to the very end.