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FILM REVIEW ***

Welcome to Collinwood

Brothers’ Debut Effort Notable, But Not Quite Coen

By Jed Horne

staff writer

Welcome to Collinwood

Written and Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring Luis Guzman, Michael Jeter, Patricia Clarkson, William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, and Jennifer Esposito

Rated R

Welcome to Collinwood generated considerable buzz before its U.S. debut at the Boston Film Festival last week, even garnering for William H. Macy the BFF’s Film Excellence Award and prompting the usually on-target Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix to gush, “This might be not just the best film in the festival but the funniest film of the year.”

With that kind of buildup, how could I have been disappointed? Sure, the summer has been filled with humorless and otherwise unremarkable movies, unless you count the remarkably awful Reign of Fire. It’s easy to understand how Anthony and Joe Russo’s debut project has drawn accolades. The two brothers have been compared to Joel and Ethan Coen, and certainly the Russos’ sensibilities, sense of humor and choice of soundtrack show touches of the Coens’ O Brother Where Art Thou and Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks. But ultimately, Welcome to Collinwood lacks the depth of the Coens’ better efforts, and is only all the more disappointing when its breezy wistfulness fails to develop into anything more.

Collinwood plays the titular role as the Russo’s fictional and dirt-poor Cleveland neighborhood, where hopelessness is only surpassed by stupidity. When small-time thug Cosimo (Traffic’s Luis Guzman) is sent to prison during a botched car theft, he hears about the job of a lifetime, but needs someone on the outside to pull it off. His girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson) can’t keep her mouth shut, and soon Cosimo finds himself contending with a motley crew of screw-ups and losers who want the job for themselves: Leon (Spike Lee regular Isaiah Washington), a dandy from the nearby projects, light weight boxer Pero (Sam Rockwell), and single dad Riley (Fargo’s William H. Macy with the coolest sideburns in a movie this year). With the help of a wheelchair-bound safecracker played by George Clooney, the team bumbles into misstep after misstep in pursuit of a small fortune.

The Russo brothers certainly show flashes of brilliance: Welcome to Collinwood has the Coen brothers’ knack for quirky characters, Woody Allen’s skill with dialogue, and even a few touches that deftly parody neo-noir like L.A. Confidential. A jazzy soundtrack and snappy dialogue keep the pace going, and the film’s slapstick is genuinely funny at times. And perhaps over-billed in his small role, William H. Macy is as solid as ever as a petty thief/father, producing a few sight gags worthy of genuine comedy.

The Coen brothers spent years in deserved obscurity, producing sometimes-unpolished film noir, and the Russo’s leap to stardom seems a little premature. Welcome to Collinwood is funny, very funny. But it’s not much else.

In the end it’s hard to care about the characters; their foibles are motivated more by stupidity than anything else, and the Russos don’t quite have Woody Allen’s knack for turning idiocy into sentimentality, or the Coen’s for turning it into universality. Maybe the rookie directors can’t snap their fingers and produce a film crew worthy of the Coens or Woody Allen, but more likely, it’s that the movie is too polished to produce any depth, a sign of immaturity on the part of the directors, but a forgivable mistake.

But the real immaturity surrounding this flick is on behalf of the critics, who are all too willing to jump on the bandwagon of the next big things in Hollywood. Welcome to Collinwood is good, but brilliant? There’s not enough to go on here to make that call.