Collaborator: Film Review

Writing/directing feature debut by actor Martin Donovan about a writer abandoned by his muse, strives for more but is limited by less than scintillating material.

Actor Martin Donovan's writing and directing debut film appears to be a work in progress.

Like the stifled playwright at its center, Collaborator appears to be a work in progress with iffy prospects of fulfilling its potential. Hal Hartley regular, actor Martin Donavan, making his writing/directing debut here, wrote the original screenplay and stars in a film that doesn’t get beyond its self-absorbed protagonist’s limited world view and rarely shakes off stage-bound conventions. A minor but professionally produced indie shot in RED format, it’s unlikely to win a theatrical run after making the rounds of the festivals.

Donavan portrays discouraged, formerly successful, New York-based writer, Robert Longfellow whose latest Broadway play has been savaged by the critics. The drubbing he receives prompts a visit to his childhood home in LA to scope out a script doctoring job on a schlock horror movie, and take care of his aging mother (Katherine Helmond with little to do other than fret), but he’s really searching for a kind of ignition that’s eluding him in middle-age. An outsider in his own life, relegated to observing rather than engaging-- the curse of being a writer, perhaps—and with a foundering marriage and a career seemingly in free-fall, he contacts his old flame, Emma Stiles (a muted Olivia Williams), a beautiful Hollywood star, in a muddled attempt to rekindle their heated romance, and possibly collaborate with her on a movie project. However, fireworks come from unexpected quarters in the form of Gus (a gruff David Morse in a self-conscious, actorish performance), the alcoholic, ex-con neighbor he’s known since boyhood, who’s still living at home and ever ready to swill beers and catch up on old times.

After Gus shows up unannounced at Robert’s door, brandishes a loaded gun and takes Robert hostage, presumably following a crime spree, a SWAT team assembles outside the house and waits for a chance to pounce while the two men smoke dope, reminisce, trade barbs, debate a range of issues including the nature of acting, play theater improv games and go mano a mano, sometimes to amusing effect. There’s never a sense of imminent threat in the hostage situation, which is a pretext, and a transparent one at that, to lock two actors together in a confined space and raise the stakes. Both characters grandstand briefly about war, politics, class, etc. but these small rants sound preachy and the impact of what minimal tension has been built (Donavan maintains his reserve throughout) is neutralized by an artificial, tacked-on ending.

Tech credits are proficient if uninspired.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival
The bottom line: Writing/directing feature debut by actor Martin Donovan about a writer abandoned by his muse, strives for more but is limited by less than scintillating material.
Production companies: A DViant Films This is That production
Cast: Martin Donovan, David Morse, Olivia Williams, Melissa Auf der Maur, Katherine Helmond, Eileen Ryan.
Director: Martin Donovan
Screenwriter: Martin Donovan
Producer: Julien Favre, Ted Hope, Luca Matrundola, Pascal Vaguelsy
Executive producer: Ted Hope, Pascal Vaguelsy, Bryan Gliserman, Charlotte Mickie
Director of photography: Julie Kirkwood
Production designer: Peter Cosco
Music: Manels Favre
Costume designer: Nadia Sorge
Editor: Karen Porter
No Rating, 87 minutes

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