I haven't been this overwhelmed by James Joyce since my High School English class. I just had the pleasure of watching and reviewing Leo, a film that tries very hard to encapsulate some of the meaning of James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and transplant it into a Southern Gothic setting. So it's interesting to be able to watch Bloom, which is a no less eager adaptation of Joyce's work actually filmed in Dublin itself, in which the Irish filmmakers and actors (including Stephen Rea as the titular title character) attempt to keep as true to the author's written word as possible. They even go so far as to shoot in the exact locations cited in the novel, as well as including several smaller details.
Does this attention to detail make Bloom a great film? Not in my opinion, as a majority of it is wasted on my ignorant American brain. While a part of me appreciates that they went to the extra effort and included it, I really wasn't aware of most of these "touches" until I watched the Extra features which pointed out all of the little things one might have missed when first viewing the film. That brings me to another point, one that always gets mentioned when someone takes a stab at a great literary work (or if not great, than at least popular), and that is why there are either those adaptations that are too beholden to their written source, the Harry Potter series springs to mind, or those that play both too fast and too loose with the material, as seen in just about every Comic Book adaptation, and to those naysayers, "Yes, Comic Books are literature."
Sadly, this one falls into the former category, as Joyce and especially his masterwork, 'Ulysses' are sacrosanct on Irish soil, so any major changes from the text would probably draw more ire than any of the tweaks Peter Jackson made in his b>Lord of the Rings Trilogy. With whole stretches of characters either speaking directly to us (in the case of Molly Bloom's book ended soliloquies), or with their thoughts constantly running over the soundtrack (i.e. Bloom himself), only the young Stephen Dedalus' musings with his roving band of scholars and academics ever sees fit to spring forth from the trappings of the page. Whether this is in some way representational of the three characters relationships to the human psyche (id, ego and superego) or just a stylistic decision on the part of the director, I'm not sure as it's been ages since I've even touched the novel.
A quick rundown of the story involves a single day (June 16th, 1907, to be exact) in the life of Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, his randy wife, Molly, and the young scholar, Stephen Dedalus, of whom Leo has begun to think of as an adopted son. The words that Joyce used were masterful, and to hear the actors speaking them is a delight, but to watch them go about their business is a terminal bore. The only time the movie tries to match the daring and experimental tone of its source is during a scene of nighttime reveling, in which Bloom imagines himself as different characters in various scenarios (i.e., put on trial for his explicit correspondence, at the mercy of a sadistic dominatrix, etc.), but even then, the film's low budget hinders it to truly take on the fluidity of Joyce's work.
If there is one reason to view the film, it's for its wonderful cast. I've always been a big fan of Stephen Rea and he doesn't disappoint. As well, Angeline Ball (Molly) and Hugh O'Conor both play their parts to a T. In fact, Angeline is the perfect embodiment of Molly Bloom, the wanton, salacious wife and id to Leo's pent up ego. She smolders on the screen and delivers the most bawdy and deliciously dirty dialogue, it's no wonder the book caused such a controversy at one time. Stephen, on the other hand, is that most idealistic of young fellows, he is after all the same character from 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.' The intellectual conceits that he comes up with and delivers (especially the theory about Shaespeare himself being the ghost of Hamlet's father) are wonderful, as taken from Joyce's book, but also imbued with a great energy that I wish carried over into the rest of the film. The brief scene between Molly and Stephen is also quite a treat.
Picture: Bloom is presented in a 16:9 widescreen presentation that looks very good. The film was shot using DV cameras, and does appear flat in some areas (namely those scenes shot on a set), but the times that the films takes advantage of its Dublin locations are really wonderful.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track sounds good, but in my opinion, the incessant dialogue (the movie is literally 95% dialogue driven) doesn't really need such a full mix.
Extras: Bloom is loaded with a plethora of Extra Features, including a commentary track by the director, Deleted Scenes with commentary, a "Making of…" Featurette, various promotional clips, a production gallery and some assorted trailers.
Conclusion: Sad to say it, but Bloom fails to truly engage the viewer (I would have rather sat down with 'Ulysses' for two hours), by following it's source material far to close for comfort while still forced, due to time/budget constraints, to focus on more of the mundane aspects of the plot, rather than the flights of fancy that it's characters take. Still, I'm sure many will enjoy the superb cast reading the sharp and poignant words of Literary Saint, James Joyce. For the rest of us, it's just an ok Rental.