Summit Entertainment and writer/director Johnson invited About.com to a special edit bay visit where Johnson was hard at work putting the finishing touches on The Brothers Bloom. The first bit of footage Johnson offered up was the opening six minutes of the film, which sets up the backstory of brothers Steven (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody). Narrated by Ricky Jay, the scene shows the beginnings of the brothers' lifelong fascination with cons. Steven's really the instigator, mapping out detailed stories of how each con will go down, with Bloom simply going along with his brother and playing out his role in Steven's plans.
Fast-forward 30 years or so and Bloom's in the middle of a mid-life crisis and ready to call it quits. But, like Brett Favre, retirement is slightly out of Bloom's reach as Steven drags him back in for just one more con. The target for this 'final' con: Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a wealthy but introverted beauty whose hobby is collecting hobbies and who's incapable of carring on a simple conversation when Bloom first meets her.
Now what's really interesting about the Brothers Bloom is that their cons aren't sinister. It's not about greed and their victims always get something in return. Shy, introverted Penelope is given the chance to be part of a grand adventure that takes her away from the safety of her home and lets her actually experience life. In a sweet yet twisted way, the brother are actually bettering her life by selecting her as their victim.
'Sweet' does seem to be the appropriate word to use to describe the tone of the scenes Johnson played during our edit bay visit. Writer/director Johnson describes his film as more light than The Grifters or House of Games, and more in the vein of Paper Moon. "It's a character-based con man movie," explained Johnson. "For me, it's about taking the con man as a storyteller and a kind of fable fairy tale around that. The whole thing is about Adrien's character through this last con that they do on Rachel Weisz' character, Penelope, kind of striving to want a real life. He's striving to want something that isn't written for him, something that isn't a story. And, for me, ultimately what it's about is that our lives are not escaping the story but just grabbing it and telling our own story. That, in a cheesy way, that kind of sums up the whole point."
Johnson shot his first movie, the critically acclaimed independent film Brick, in 19 days for just under $500,000. Although he's not able to confirm the budget for The Brothers Bloom - "I'm not allowed to say or an arrow will shoot through [the window]. It'll be like Wanted," joked Johnson - it's considerably more than Brick's budget, but still small considering the cast and the different set-ups.
The Brothers Bloom was shot in four different countries, with Serbia chosen for economic reasons to stand in for a lot of European countries. The production also traveled to Prague. "Prague is the one place where we actually shot Prague for Prague," revealed Johnson who also disclosed that most of the film's builds were done in Serbia, as well as some of the street scenes. The cast and crew also traveled to Montenegro for coastal scenes before moving on to Romania for some of the more hillside shots. "We actually faked New Jersey in Romania, which I think is the first time that's ever been even said out loud," said Johnson, laughing.
"It made a lot of sense economically to [shoot in Serbia]. It ended up being a great choice actually. Serbia ended up being a really good spot for us. The local people that we hooked up with there – we brought all of our keys in from the States and from London – but the local crew once we got over the communication barrier and just kind of the cultural stuff, they ended up being great. We ended up having a great experience shooting there actually, except they didn't have a sound stage built yet. And so we ended up shooting all of our build stuff in this cold storage locker which was this massive [building]."
The end of the movie takes place in a big rotted out theater which had to be built in the cold storage locker. That special set ended up being tagged with an interesting name. "We ended up referring [it] to as our 'What the Hell was That Sound? Stage' because if someone dropped a toothpick on the other end of this place, you would hear it."
While the film's leads, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, do not physically resemble brothers, their chemistry onscreen completely sells the family bond. Johnson was happy when I told him I bought into Ruffalo and Brody as siblings. "I'm glad to hear that. It does. You know, you cast them both separately and really the first time you see them together is the first week of rehearsal. You know that they're both great actors and you cross your fingers. But I think they really ended up, as actors, also complimenting each other really well."
Johnson describes the character of Steve on the page as being like a George Clooney, a guy who's got it all together. "I was actually really, really excited to get Mark in the part because he's such like a down-to-earth, charming guy. He brings kind of his lopsidedness to it that makes it a little bit more interesting. I thought that he and Adrien looked pretty well together."