Film Review: Collaborator

In his debut auteurial flourish, writer-director-writer Martin Donovan proves himself a triple-threat bore.

Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan) is a New York playwright suffering from a general malaise. His last play was savaged by the critics and his marriage, like his career, seems to be at a dead end. He goes home to Los Angeles to stay with his mother (Katherine Helmond) and sniff out schlocky movie job possibilities. Two people from his past pop up—an old girlfriend, Emma (Olivia Williams), and his neighbor, Gus (David Morse), an alcoholic ex-con still living at home and all too eager to renew a relationship with Robert which never much existed in the first place, due to their basic differences. The first reunion is rather sweet, with a possibility of creative collaboration, the latter one less so, as Gus suddenly takes Robert hostage in his own home, with a SWAT team all too ready to fire on them outside.

Donovan not only stars in Collaborator, but wrote and directed the film, which might—I say “might”—have been more effective on the stage. It’s basically a two-hander, as Robert and the unwilling Gus are holed up together, getting high and doing an awful lot of aimless jawing. On the screen, it’s a pretty deadly affair, as you simply don’t care about the characters, who all seem hollow, writerly conceits. There’s a parched feeling to the whole enterprise: Not enough happens, and what does is predictable in the extreme.

Donovan almost seems a caricature of himself, that alienated, rather sad sack familiar from all those Hal Hartley movies. Morse tries way too hard to be at once menacing and filled with a gruff, unsettling bonhomie. Williams is completely wasted and Helmond a mere caricature of old age.