Welcome to Collinwood

Coen-esque comedy quirkiness that falls just short of the mark.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 24 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
Welcome to Collinwood image.

Often a first-time feature director will go out of their way to establish some kind of a hallmark; perhaps a visual style or editing preference. Certainly failing that they will almost always at least make their film stand out some way, either in choice of subject matter or through some other similar means. Not so Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers responsible for writing and directing Welcome to Collinwood, a low key affair that ambles along quite happily with no ambition other than to entertain.

Another effort from the Clooney/Soderbergh production stable (do these guys sleep at all?), the movie seems to be a bitter-sweet love letter both to their home state of Ohio and the character driven comic farces of yore. The titular town of Collinwood, Cleveland, is something of a timewarp victim; contemporary characters amble about a run-down town whose architecture and streets suggest some crazy kind of 30's or 40's gangster retreat. The denizens are a motley bunch of low-income, low-rent street hoods and loveable rogues, with nary a do-gooder in sight. When one such petty criminal, Cosimo (Luis Guzm?n) goes in for a stretch on a GTA charge, he learns of a safe stuffed with cash just waiting to be cherry-picked in a local jewelers. The man who informs him is a lifer, and he also happens to have built the separating wall between that shop and the neighbouring apartment which now resides empty. Having planned to make the heist himself, he deliberately built the wall to a less than satisfactory standard, making entry through the division a potential piece of cake.

Without droning on too much, Cosimo unwisely lets details of the job slip to his partner Rosalind (Patricia Clarkson), who in turn enlists the help of petty criminal and part-time boxer Pero (Sam Rockwell). It's only a matter of time before a host of others are added to the roster, including single father Riley (William H. Macy), wannabe crimelord Leon (Isaiah Washington), and old-timer Toto (Michael Jeter). Throw into the mix beautiful housekeeper Carmela (Jennifer Esposito), who operates out of the supposedly 'abandoned' apartment they need to break through from, and the scene is set for a relatively enjoyable character-led comedy piece.

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Most pieces of this nature tend to suffer from an unnecessarily indulgent running time, but fortunately from this point of view, Welcome to Collinwood keeps things short and sweet. Unfortunately, this also works against it's favour in the respect that not enough time is given over to character development of any kind, save maybe for Macy's character who has the wonderfully sidestory-inferring prop of a baby to cart about. Whereas any number of other films pad out a two hour running time with a similar scant regard for exposition and we'd consequently be happy to see them chopped, Collinwood is clearly a cut above the rest in all other aspects, and I'd actually have been happy to see it run longer in favour of a bit more substance. Again, I shan't drone on about this, but I do feel it would have benefited the picture greatly, especially given the first-rate cast.

And what a cast indeed. Producer Clooney turns up in a cameo as Jerzy; a safe-cracking expert from whom the crew seek advice, and an exponent of the "slow but clean circular saw method". Despite his prominence in the trailer and marketing fluff, presumably to raise the profile somewhat, his presence is negligible and largely unnecessary. The rest of the squad manage ably, but there's an essential spark missing somewhere from the mix. Despite how wonderfully the albeit shallow characters are portrayed, there's no chemistry, even between Rockwell and Esposito which one would have imagined would be a dead cert. I feel like I'm nit-picking here, as there's not a bad performance to be had from the cast of Clooney and Soderbergh regulars, but I really had expected more.

Welcome to Collinwood image.

Stylistically, it's clear exactly where the Russo brothers want to be, or rather who they want to be; Joel and Ethan Coen. Small town, bungled criminal activity, quirky characters in a slightly off-kilter contemporary setting, cool local colloquialisms just begging to become part of the linguistic mainstream? Come on lads. Clearly Clooneybergh think they have found the new Coen's too, but here's the news; nobody here is too cool for school. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, but the aping here is a bit too blatant for my liking. The trouble is that the content might have been copied reasonably successfully, but the style and grace that binds it all together hasn't. The direction is competent, but never ingenious. The setting too seems to have been picked out as intentionally quirky, but unlike say Fargo, it isn't used effectively enough as either another 'character' or really even a meaningful canvas for the action to take place against. The ingredients are there, but nobody is stirring until mixed.

Now that I've been so harsh, let me just point out that I did still enjoy this immensely. There is a lot of joy to be had in both the scenario (despite being so well-trodden) and the actors themselves. Rockwell is again on good form, but like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he's still waiting for that significant spark to ignite his obvious potential. Macy is almost as dependable as ever, but he doesn't seem to have been allowed as much leash-length this time to mix it up in his usual fashion. Washington, Jeter, Guzm?n, Clarkson and Esposito are all in good nick, and Clooney most definitely has a gas in his few minutes on screen.

Yep, the buck really does have to stop with the Russo's, but it's still a reasonably promising first entry into the canon of major motion pictures. If they do want to convince us they're worthy of Coen-esque greatness (and believe me I'd love them to be; there aren't enough filmmakers like them around), then next time they'll have to step up a couple of gears. Quite good, really, but not really good enough.

Craig Disko has awarded this mmmmoooooovie 3 out of 5 Sly Disko winks.

Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast list:
Sam Rockwell(Pero)
William H. Macy (Riley)
Isaiah Washington (Leon)
Patricia Clarkson (Rosalind)
Michael Jeter (Toto)
Luis Guzm?n (Cosimo)
Jennifer Esposito (Carmela)
George Clooney (Jerzy)