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Hostage drama, Los Angeles-style

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Actor Martin Donovan, known primarily for his work in the films of Hal Hartley, shows his hidden depths writing, directing and starring in this unusual comedy-drama about a Los Angeles-style hostage-taking.

Donovan is Robert Longfellow, a New York playwright who, after receiving scathing, career-ending reviews for his latest play, retreats to L.A. to take some meetings and reconnect with his aging mom (Katherine Helmond). One of the meetings Robert takes is with Emma Stiles (Olivia Williams), a famous actress who has held a torch for the married-with-kids Robert since she got her start in his plays.

Trouble rears its head in the unlikely form of a neighbour across the street from Robert's mom. Gus (David Morse) is a 57-year-old misfit ex-con who still lives with his mother. In school, Gus was friends with Robert's older brother. He reaches out to the troubled playwright, suggesting they down some brewskis together. At the most inconvenient time, Gus shows up and holds Robert to his glib promise. As they smoke a joint in Robert's old bedroom, blowing the smoke out the window, cops swarm around Gus's h ouse.

Gus has done something bad. When the police realize he is in the Longfellow house, the hostage drama begins, with Robert and Gus talking, drinking, and even engaging in theatre games.

I said this was a Los Angeles-style hostage taking.

Die Hard, it's not. In fact, Donovan's comedy-drama is very much a character piece. And since Donovan's own character is something of a stick-in-the-mud, the character who most attracts our interest is Gus, whom the dependable David Morse imbues with skill. Gus is a character of big contradictions. He seems a benign, gregarious sort (seen to best advantage when he gets an opportunity for a star-struck conversation with Emma on Robert's phone), except a rage burns within.

The fact that Longfellow is a playwright is a cue to the film's most obvious failing: This movie is awfully stagey. And since Donovan doesn't seem interested in exploiting the movie medium to lift the movie beyond its sets, one can't help musing that this might have been a better play than a film.

But then we might have been denied the opportunity to see Morse working his magic on a character worthy of his skills, as opposed to the assortment of villains or supporting characters he often plays in more typical Hollywood fare.

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of The Collaborator.

Morse and Donovan hold us rapt in this clearly told tale about identity confusion.

-- Adam Litovitz, Globe and Mail

What really matters is the interplay between two fine actors, the icy Donovan and the fiery Morse.

-- Peter Howell, Toronto Star

Both characters are riveting, and they even manage to earn most of the freight that Donovan loads onto his heavily ironic title.

-- Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post

An exceedingly earnest, high-minded hostage drama in which any visceral tension is secondary to topical debates by a captor and his prisoner.

-- Stephen Holden, New York Times

It's no surprise that Donovan's directorial debut finds him firmly rejecting the mainstream in favor of a deliberately suffocating challenge.

-- Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

The dolefully talented actor Martin Donovan wrote, directed, and stars in a pressure-cooker two-hander.

-- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

On one level, it's a dark, funny tragedy, but it's also Donovan's thesis on his own craft.

-- Chris Packham, Village Voice

A solid, character-based drama that speaks to the disappointments of middle age and mortality in general, Collaborator doesn't let anyone off the hook -- not even the viewer.

-- Katherine Monk, Vancouver Sun

Collaborator is a gimmick movie, but the gimmick is sound.

-- Norman Wilner, NOW magazine

Compiled by Shane Minkin


Starring Martin Donovan and David Morse



87 minutes

3 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 D4

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