Starring all your favourite second bananas, plus George Clooney, this is a downbeat, low-budget, impeccably-scripted, superbly-acted, humanist tragicomedy from George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's Section 8 production company. Pull up a chair, this is a doozy.
Guzmán plays a useless car thief awaiting bail after his latest arrest. His cellmate, a lifer, tells him of the perfect heist: hundreds of thousands of dollars in a rickety safe adjacent to an empty apartment. All Guzmán needs is a "mullinski"—someone to do his jail-time for him for $15,000. His girlfriend puts the word out and rubbish boxer Rockwell is secured as the mullinski, but not before crippled safebreaker Clooney, desperate single dad Macy, ageing tramp Michael Jeter and hard-up hustler Isaiah Washington get wind of it and go after a piece of the action too. What's more, Rockwell only spends half an hour in prison before he's sprung, leaving Guzmán fuming inside while every idiot in Collinwood goes after his loot.
Initially, this is as much a study in poverty, desperation and (extremely) petty crime in the rust belt as it is a comedy. Macy's character in particular tugs the heartstrings: wife in jail, arm in plaster, baby on his hip even during fights, he'd steal the show in any other cast, but here there's stiff competition from a who's who of indie character actors. There's more talent on screen here than in a whole summer of blockbusters. It's not all stagecraft, though. After much bumbling, bickering, barbiturate-taking, wearing of rabbi costumes and falling out of windows, the action builds to a spectacularly incompetent break-in scene that's up there with Woody Allen at his slapstickiest.
We've got used to quality stuff from the Clooney/Soderbergh production team, but this is something more: in first-time writer-directors the Russo brothers, we have the first serious challengers to the throne currently occupied by the Coens. Things could get interesting.
Rating: 4 / 10