Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps it’s the opening title cards that remind me of O Brother Where Art Thou, or perhaps it’s the use of the very specific music, or perhaps the (brief) presence of George Clooney, or perhaps it’s the script; whatever or all of these make me think of the Coen brothers, and the Russo brothers can take that as a compliment. It’s their first feature. The humour is black, dry and absurd yet true to life. The look and tone of the film is underlit and melancholy, streaked with potentially tragic elements that are never quite given full rein, but which make the comedy grip harder.
This film requires the sort of specialised palate that is acquired by painful experience or exists naturally, if outside the boundaries of the norm (for life as well as for cinema). Based, one discovers in the credits, on a story written by a handful of Italians, the plot could be handled any which way, and in other hands it might have been taken at face value. A crime caper that goes wrong. But the flavour that’s injected by the filmmakers is far more entertaining than that, pushing the characters up front so that the situation combined with the characters becomes something more to engage us. Individuals all emerge from the scrum, and the almost surreal comedy is kept alive by a restraint in direction and performance that provides satisfaction by its proximity to reality.
But it’s the music – ranging from the wonderfully atmosphere-setting opening song, Via Con Me by Paolo Conte to the Django Reinhardt-esq pieces – that pushes the film’s mood along, with humour that is variously farcical, physical or fatalistic. Set in working class Collinwood (near Cleveland, not Melbourne), the film absorbs the chaos of its scenario and spits it out as something unique – even if it does remind me of the Coen brothers.
Review by Louise Keller:
‘Five guys, one safe, no brains’ is the tagline; the result is an achingly funny offbeat comedy whose wacky characters are so ridiculous, they become endearing. Influenced by European cinema and reminiscent of a 30s comedy or even the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou, the Russo brothers have created an unlikely fable about a scam that becomes the obsession of a pack of losers naïve enough to believe they can succeed.
The opening sequence shows a clumsy attempt to steal a car. After a quick, sharp edit, the culprit is behind bars and wearing a thickly striped inmates uniform. We then meet his ladylove on visiting day, and very soon the hunt is on to recruit a patsy to take his wrap, so he can realise his ‘Bellini’. Each character is a delight – from Luis Guzmán’s agitated petty thief to Sam Rockwell’s boxing jackass, William H. Macy’s pathetic baby-in-a-sling, glass-painting ex-con intent to raise the bail for his imprisoned wife, Michael Jeter’s scene stealing gravel-voiced old codger and George Clooney’s heavily tattooed, wheel-chaired safe-cracking instructor.
It’s a comedy of errors coupled with droll one-liners (‘How did you find me?’ – ‘This is where you live.’) and slapstick that tickles more than slaps. How to raise $500? The answer lies behind holy walls, when we briefly meet nuns operating a money-lending scam. And when the safe-cracking instructor yells ‘hide the safe’ as the cops approach, what can you say when these shady looking characters improvise with a make-shift clothes line and begin singing a capella Christmas carols? Wait until you see George Clooney disguised under a heavy plastic beard and wide-brimmed black orthodox Jewish hat. It’s a visual gag that’s played for all it’s worth. As for the break-in, hold on to your stomach, dear friends, there are plenty of laughs in store – as the absurd trips into the insane.
Best of all, none of the gags are overdone – they are just a stream of endless inventive skits – offering enticing fuel for the lover of black comedy. I love the jazzy soundtrack and especially the opening tune Via Con Me by Paolo Conte which was also used so effectively in Mostly Martha. If you’re looking for a dose of the bizarre, Welcome to Collinwood – you won’t forget your visit.