The Review: There’s something odd about people in general – we like to be surprised. We like that twist at the end, we like the intricacy of the puzzle and trying to work it out. But, by and large, we don’t like magic any more. The theatrical men with their grand illusions seem to have had their bubble burst in recent years, partly because society got bored and allowed itself to give away all the endings and secrets on TV specials. So if you’re going to pull the wool over someone’s eyes these days, you need to do a few things right.
Firstly, you need to draw in your mark, and get their attention. Writer / director Rian Johnson sets up the story with a childhood prologue which sets out the principles and the character traits in a very efficient seven minutes, which almost works as the first act of the movie; everything you need as set-up for the rest of the movie’s been tightly but expertly packed in here, capturing both Bloom’s reasons for participating and his disappointment that not everyone leaves happy at the end. This then allows the body of the movie to head off in random directions, but always leave you feeling engaged and connected.
Secondly, you need to make sure your act has polish and professionalism. Two things work in the movie’s favour here – the travelogue locations would make a James Bond film feel proud, landing in one location for just long enough to edge the plot along before rattling on to the next. It takes with it a strong cast who are all having fun with their roles, except maybe Adrien Brody who only gets to drop the melancholy occasionally as the titular Bloom. But Mark Ruffalo, Robbie Coltrane and Maximilian Schell all tuck into theirs with appropriate gusto, Rinko Kikuchi (you might remember her from movies such as Babel) gets to have enormous fun as the mute explosive expert, almost a live action Gromit to the Brothers’ Wallace, and especially Rachel Weisz, the collector of hobbies who gets to show most of them off in a fantastic montage early on.
But thirdly, and most importantly, you need to have your ending ready – the crowd won’t come back if the trick doesn’t reveal itself well. Johnson, both through script and direction, keeps things moving along at pace right to the end, but the travelogue feel and the nature of the layers of the con give a fun, frothy feel, then at the last he attempts to reach for gravitas and danger, and we don’t want it to end that way. It’s as if you’ve watched Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven, only to discover the end of a Bourne movie at the climax. Sadly, the ending doesn’t feel as if it’s been earned – there feels one con too few or too many, but either way the Brothers come up just short of a successful show. Better luck with your next mark, fellas.
Why see it at the cinema: The huge amounts of background detail and action in the distance, almost like a Zucker comedy, are best captured where you have the chance to see it all. There’s also enough good laughs to keep the communal spirits up.
The Score: 7/10