The Brothers Bloom show off (and so can your characters)

Stephen and Bloom descend a staircase in The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom tells a story of two sibling con artists. When Bloom (played by Adrien Brody) tries to quit the life, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) offers him an out after one last job. The mark: A wealthy shut-in named Penelope (Rachel Weisz), whose longing for adventure pulls her into the brothers’ web. Following Stephen’s plan, Bloom wonders if he’s actually falling in love with Penelope, or if he’s once again just good at playing his role.

The film’s primary characters radiate quick wit and cool competence. Brothers Stephen and Bloom are life-long con artists with a string of successes. Penelope spent years collecting and honing various talents. Even the Brothers’ former mentor and current antagonist, Diamond Dog, seems supernaturally adept at showing up to push their buttons.

But it’s not enough to be told that characters are the best at what they do — we need to see it on screen. The Writer Emergency Pack XL card “Perfect Balance” wants you to think about when your characters go above and beyond what most people can do.

Let’s take a look at some examples from the movie, drawing on the tips from “Perfect Balance,” to see how The Brothers Bloom shines a spotlight on its characters’ skills.

From The Brothers Bloom. Stephen stands in a library on fire, gloating over a successful con.
“Wow is the word you’re looking for! Wow!”

Let your character show off

The first suggestion on the card calls for crafting an over-the-top display of the best of your character’s abilities.

The Brothers Bloom starts with a bang: Current mark Charleston thinks he’s shot and killed Bloom, running away from a library engulfed in flames and giving up on the money the brothers promised him.

Of course, Bloom doesn’t start the movie off dead.

Stephen helps Bloom up, and the story pauses to let Bloom narrate the setup Stephen crafted to bring them to this point. Bloom’s clothing and dialogue were modeled on Charleston’s ex-wife the day she left him. Stephen hoped this would push Charleston to pull the trigger on a gun loaded with blanks so they could stage Bloom’s death and convince Charleston to flee without his money.

First we see the success, but then we learn the absurd level of planning and detail Stephen uses in creating the moment. It also shows Bloom’s commitment to his brother’s plans, and how convincing of an actor he can be.

Three Images. Left Bloom talking to Charleston. Middle Charleston points a gun at Bloom. Right Charleston's ex-wife in a flashback.
Charleston sees Bloom, Charleston aims the gun, Charleston remembering his ex-wife

While Bloom attempts to get to know Penelope to entice her to travel for the con, their conversation looks like it’s coming to an awkward end until she volunteers that she collects hobbies.

What follows is a rapid-fire comedic montage showcasing Penelope’s ability to play multiple instruments, breakdance, juggle chainsaws on a unicycle, and create elegant origami.

Penelope holds two chainsaws while sitting on a unicycle, telling Bloom to throw a third chainsaw up to her to juggle.
“I am not comfortable with this at all. This is a running chainsaw.”

This slots into the story because it makes sense for both characters to want to take time for it. Bloom wants to build an emotional connection with Penelope to manipulate her into becoming their next mark. Penelope has spent most of her life in isolation, and readily admits she’s not great with people. Sharing the things she’s good at makes for a logical way for her to keep Bloom from leaving.

How did they learn all these skills?

Knowing the origin of your characters’ talents helps even if we don’t see them developing those skills on screen. “Perfect Balance” suggests you take some time to plot out the why and how of those extraordinary abilities.

With The Brothers Bloom, those origin stories get a chance to play a part in deepening our understanding of the characters.

Stephen and Bloom’s childhood gets narrated in storybook rhyme. We see them go through a variety of foster homes until the moment that shy Bloom gets a crush on a girl at school.

Stephen at age 13. Bloom at age 10. Standing by the side of the road with a large suitcase.

Stephen, wanting to help, comes up with an elaborate plan for Bloom to befriend the girl and the rest of her friends with a fantastic story about treasure, mysterious strangers, and magic.

It’s a delightfully planned con, where Bloom leads the children in their Sunday best into a muddy cave, promising treasure. For just a moment, he feels the rush of having friends, and then it all slips away when he remembers that it’s just a con Stephen came up with.

It looks like a crushing end, but then comes the twist: Stephen cut in the town’s dry cleaner on the scam. All those muddy kids needed their church clothes cleaned. Bloom may have lost a chance at making friends, but he got his first taste of the life Stephen could plan for them.

After a night with Bloom, Penelope shares the reason why she learned so many different talents. It’s a tour-de-force single shot where Penelope narrates her twisty tale while simultaneously showing off a card trick.

Penelope performs a card trick for Bloom, four queens face up on the table.
“The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat.”

As a child, Penelope was assumed to have a large number of allergies and kept inside and isolated. However, Doctors discovered that she was actually only allergic to the needle used in allergy tests. Before she could break free to explore the world, her mother became ill and she needed to stay home to take care of her.

And all through this time, she studied new hobbies. New tricks and abilities.

She decided that if this is her story, she wasn’t going to focus on the cruel ironies, but on the ways in which she grew and learned through it all. It’s a scene that takes what could be a quirky character and gives her pathos and motivation.

Penelope holds her hand up, surrounded by police while holding a ziplock bag containing a book in her teeth.

Drop a banana peel

Seeing people display their skills when they’re at the top of their game is impressive. “Perfect Balance” encourages you to find moments to force characters to pivot away from disaster to make an even more impressive moment. The Brothers Bloom has several moments where all is almost lost, but talent comes through in the clutch.

As part of the con to drain Penelope’s bank account, the brothers plant a fake rare book in Prague. A tiny explosive charge will set off the smoke alarms to clear the way for Penelope to feel like a daring smuggler and sneak in to retrieve the book. There’s just one catch:

Penelope accidentally put a large amount of additional explosive into the bag with the charge.

The massive explosion causes panic in the streets around the building and swarms of police arrive. Penelope rushes into danger against Bloom’s calls to abort the mission.

Through a combination of physical skills, deep knowledge of foreign languages, and Penelope’s adaptability in a crisis, she amazes the rest of the team by walking out of a police car with the book in hand.

Late in the film, Bloom attempts to rescue Stephen from Diamond Dog in Russia. Stephen knows that Bloom needs to leave immediately to avoid danger, and he chooses to sacrifice himself to protect his brother.

Stephen holds out the jack of spades while sitting in a chair, bruised and bloody.
“Can I get a ‘wow’ for this?”

Though Bloom can see Stephen looks badly wounded, Stephen manages some simple acrobatics and to talk a good game about how all of this was part of his plan. It mimics the earlier scene with Stephen gloating over the successful con of Charleston. He manages to convince Bloom (at least for the moment) that he’s fine and everything went according to plan.

Not only is Stephen managing to put on a convincing performance while bleeding out, he’s conning a con man. That added level of difficulty forces him to pull out all the stops and gives the audience the strongest possible performance from the character.

If you have a writer emergency…

Let your character show off.

  • Write the most over-the-top display of your hero’s many talents.
  • Drop a banana peel: Set up a situation where your character looks to be on the verge of failure, but give them the chance to recover.
  • How did your hero learn their impressive skills? Write out the history and see if there are moments you might bring into the journey they’re currently on.

Find out how to get more tips like these with your own Writer Emergency Pack XL!