Adrien Brody plays the role of Bloom in this weekend’s conman movie…
The Brothers Bloom are the best conmen in the business – concocting elaborate stories that result in near-perfect crimes. The pair come to a crossroads when Bloom (Adrien Brody) decides he has had enough of the conman game only to be lured back by his brother Stephen for one more con – getting their hands on the considerable bank balance of a beautiful but eccentric heiress played by Rachel Weisz. Joined by mute explosives expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), the foursome embark on a mad caper around Europe.
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Movies.ie talked to acclaimed writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick) about conmen, storytelling and keeping out of Hollywood.
Q. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind The Brothers Bloom?
A. Well it started with wanting to do a conman movie – it’s always been one of my favourite genres ever since I saw The Sting when I was a kid. I was thinking about the conman movie and about how to do something a little bit different with one and I got the idea of doing a character-based conman movie. That was where the whole thing really took off for me. It’s a very unique genre, in that the audience is coming into it automatically keeping some emotional distance between themselves and the characters because they know one of the characters is gonna screw over the other ones. It’s almost like they’re coming into a relationship with an untrustworthy person. So to avoid getting hurt you don’t fully emotionally invest in any of the people. The big appeal to me was, ok how do you overcome that; how do you make a very character based conman movie and hopefully create some characters that you are actually gonna care about at the end of it?
Q. So what solution did you come up with?
A. The idea that I had was; ok, let’s make that the central character’s problem. Let’s make it that he’s kind of stuck in this never-ending con game. His brother is creating this very precious storytelling world for him but he feels trapped in it and he also keeps this emotional distance, he’s in the same position as the audience at the beginning of it – not trusting anybody around him because they’re all part of this hyper-real story. So that was the notion where it all took off.
Q. You created a very specific world for the characters – it almost has a classic Hollywood feel, a very romantic view of Europe. Was this the idea from the start?
A. Yeh, very much so. It also very much comes from throughout my twenties I was very broke and I had a highly romanticised vision of Europe. I couldn’t afford to actually travel there until later in my twenties and my thirties where I made up for lost time and have travelled over here quite a bit now. But I was in the same spot then that the character Penelope is very much in in this movie. She has a very rich internal life but it’s entirely in her house in New Jersey. So this journey that the brothers take her on is very much catering to her notion of what Europe would be like – very much an armchair adventures version of all these grand romantic places. And yeh that’s also what those old Hollywood movies were doing.
Q. So the production and costume design side of this – is that something that you had in your head from the writing stage or did it come later?
A. Well the basics are there in the writing but it really takes people who are much more talented than myself to flesh it all out. We had Jim Clay as our production designer who is a very talented guy who’s based here in London; he also did the film Children of Men. He’s incredibly talented. We shot the entire film in Eastern Europe and Jim did a great job of taking these locations and really glamming them up and really selling them as this kind of exotic jaunt around all of Europe, when in reality we were only in a couple of countries out in the Balkans.
Q. How did that compare to shooting in Hollywood?
A. Well this is only my second film and the first one I did was a very, very low budget movie so in some ways the first film I did felt much more disconnected from Hollywood even than this one! So I’m not sure. I’m kinda disconnected from Hollywood myself in a way just because I never really have worked professionally as a director – I just grew up making movies with my friends and then wrote my first film out of college, got it made some years later and I’ve kind of had the luxury of just making my own stuff. So in many ways I feel like I don’t know how Hollywood production is – I just get a group of people together and put on a show I guess.
Q. Is that how you’d like to continue working – to have that “small” feel to things?
A. Yeh, well in terms of making films, I don’t have any particular interest in making big or making small films; it’s just whatever story is exciting to me. But it’s fun to be working on a bigger palette and be in beautiful locations. The next film that I’m hopefully going to make (as I knock on wood) is a science fiction film, a time travel movie – so it’s a totally different type of thing but very much a bigger movie. But in the sense of how we make these movies and how we approach them, it’s working with the same little group of people and having it always feel in a way similar to when I was in high school and would make a movie over the weekend with some friends. To always have that very intimate and collaborative feel to it is something that’s very important to me and the experience of making a film like that is something that I don’t think I would ever want to give up.
Q. It’s a phenomenal cast with some really big names in some perhaps unusual roles for them (Mark Ruffalo especially perhaps) – did you find it difficult to cast these characters?
A. No, it was fun. For me that’s the exciting part about casting, to do something that surprises you. I write my own scripts (I’m also a painfully slow writer) and by the time I get to the casting process I’ve usually been living with these people in my head for several years. So I have the obvious version of them in my head and at that point it’s much more fun to find someone whos going to be surprising in the part. So for Mark Ruffalo’s character it would have been very easy to cast a George Clooney, “master of the universe” type with the devilish smile. It was much more interesting to me to cast somebody like Mark who has a vulnerability and a lop-sidedness and who you’re used to seeing kind of in darker roles. Taking a guy like that and giving him the opportunity to be the circus ringmaster was much more interesting.
Q. This is really a film about the power of storytelling to manipulate people – is this something that interests you as a writer and director?
A. Yeh, any type of story ultimately is sleight of hand and I think maybe that’s why the conman genre tends to be something that’s very popular with filmmakers. It makes explicit in the material itself the contract that you usually implicitly have with the audience going into a movie, which is we’re going to distract you with this hand and then tap you on the shoulder with the other. It gives you an opportunity to really explore that very explicitly. With Bloom it was interesting because the aspects of the conning and the fooling and the twist at the end was the element of it that I was interested in the least; it was much more interesting to me to explore whether in the context of a story like that you could make a character based movie with people that you’d actually care about by the end. In many ways that’s the little trick of the film; at the end of the day it’s not so much about who fooled who but much more about a group of people figuring stuff out and how they get what they want by the end of the film.