Welcome To Collinwood (2002) – movie review

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Luis Guzman, Michael Jeter, Patricia Clarkson, Andrew Davoli, Isaiah Washington

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

WELCOME TO COLINWOOD works well as a kind of bumbling, backwoods companion-piece to OCEAN’S ELEVEN. The latter film’s Las Vegas setting has been replaced by the less glamorous Colinwood, Cleveland, while it’s professional thieves have been replaced by the most rag-tag collection of losers and hoodlums that you’re ever likely to see assembled in one film. Yet despite these differences both films have similar plots and also share near-identical moods of irreverence, fun, and old-fashioned, uncomplex romanticism. It is unsurprising to find, then, that both films also share the same producers, the ever-busy partnership of George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.

The story begins when a crook named Cosimo (Luis Guzman) hears of a peachy job involving a safe in a pawnbrokers – reportedly containing $300,000. Once he reluctantly reveals the details to his girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson) the news quickly spreads around Collinwood until a gang of up to eight people, unofficially led by failed amateur boxer Pero (a charismatic Sam Rockwell), cross the unpopular Cosimo and plan the job for themselves. It almost goes without saying that everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

It’s the oldest story around, but no version ever had this gallery of likeable rogues in it. There are about eight main protagonists, all given equal weighting, and all fleshed out nicely. They include Leon (Isaiah Washington), ‘the ghetto dandy’, a bum posing as an aesthete; Riley (William H Macy), who appears in most of his scenes with a baby incongruously strapped around his chest after his wife gets locked up for fraud; and even George Clooney makes a fleeting appearance as Jerzy, a wheel-chair bound safe-cracker with an ill-temper. Holding them all together, however, is the hugely impressive and likeable Sam Rockwell. His performance as a carefree chancer grows on you until it becomes difficult to take your eyes away from him.

The performances are uniformly excellent, played by American character actors who are usually given smaller, less rewarding roles in bigger films, but are here given plenty of room to shine. They are helped by a formidable script, which develops characters and plot with equal aplomb, and contains some great dialogue and hilarious one-liners. The verbal humour never fails to hit the mark, but also present is some of the funniest slapstick I have seen in years. It reached an awesome peak about twenty minutes from the end, during the disastrous burglary attempt, which had me in tears.

Joint directors and screenwriters Anthony and Joseph Russo show that they have, in this film at least, Steven Soderbergh’s envious knack for turning what should be nothing more than an undemanding mainstream crowd-pleaser into a rich and thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema. The pair prove that they have fiercely acute filmmaking skills, yet in spite of this WELCOME TO COLINWOOD remains a refreshingly unassuming and laid-back film throughout.

5 out of 6 stars