Starring Martin Donovan, David Morse. Written and directed by Martin Donovan. 14A. 87 min. Opens July 13.
Written and directed by Martin Donovan, Collaborator is like many movies made by actors in that its first priority is giving its performers plenty of chances to work their mojo. And as is the case for a good portion of those movies (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus being a recent example), one such performer is the filmmaker himself.
A Vancouver-based actor best known for his roles in the films of Hal Hartley and his more recent stint on Weeds, Donovan stars here as Robert Longfellow, a playwright nursing a badly bruised ego after the failure of his most recent show in New York. While visiting his elderly mother in L.A., he reconnects with his old flame, Emma, and ponders whether to revive their romance in between his understandably guilt-ridden phone calls home to his wife, Alice (Melissa Auf der Maur, the former Hole/Smashing Pumpkins bassist, making a respectable dramatic debut). But Robert has what proves to be a more fateful reunion with Gus (David Morse), a childhood pal who’s now a troubled ex-con. Gus’s insistence that Robert join him for some brewskies leads to a high-stakes situation for both men.
Donovan has long specialized in characters whose shoulders seem to sag under the weight of the world, and Robert is no exception. Yet it’s Robert’s most spontaneous moments with his foul-mouthed companion—played with gusto by Morse—that give some life to Donovan’s somewhat stilted drama. Viewers may cringe at the clumsy use of exposition-spouting news reporters and the ever-popular heartfelt-monologue-delivered-to-answering-machine scene, as well as the prevailing sense that we’re bearing witness to the lowest-intensity hostage situation in the history of law enforcement. But Collaborator never entirely succumbs to its own inertia, thanks to two virtues that also distinguished Donovan’s movies with Hartley: a self-conscious theatricality and an eagerness to give the actors room to roam.