David Mamet, the undisputed master of the conman film, is imitated far less than he should be. So it’s nice to see his influence in Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his polarising debut, Brick. From the opening narration by Mamet stalwart Ricky Jay, through to the numerous twisty con games, it’s clear Johnson shares Mamet’s affection for the way and the world of the conman.
But this is more than just a conman film; it’s also an affected collection of witticisms set against magnificent international locations, an examination of a peculiar fraternal dynamic and an endearingly off-beat love story. And it projects a romantic streak that would make Mamet run a mile.
As with Brick, (whose lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pops up for a cameo), Johnson lays on the noir styling, but it’s much less forced here. As our three main players (with Babel’s Oscar-nominated Rinko Kikuchi along as a reliable fourth wheel) jaunt about the world, you can’t help but get swept up in the film’s notion of international intrigue.
Ruffalo and Brody contrast nicely as brothers – the former all soft-featured and fast-talking, with the latter more angular and soulful than ever. Weisz, who’s never seemed sweeter, develops a nice chemistry with Brody and infuses a role that could easily have been too twee with a lot of empathy.
The surfeit of self-conscious “quirkiness” (a camel turns up) may turn some off and the denouement is too long, but this is an impressively assured second film from a burgeoning director who’s now two for two.