22 October 2011

Flyway Film Festival: Martin Donovan's COLLABORATOR

I don't really do reviews anymore, but since I'm covering a festival, I figure I probably should. Follow the festival buzz for Flyway using the Twitter hostage #flyway11

Collaborator (Martin Donovan)

The Opening Night film, from Executive Producer Ted Hope, COLLABORATOR marks the directorial debut of actor Martin Donovan. Donovan plays Robert Longfellow, a formerly great playwright who's play has just opened to disastrous reviews in New York. He goes to LA where he meets up with old schoolmate Gus (David Morse), a blue collar guy who's life hasn't exactly gone well.

Not surprisingly, COLLABORATOR is an actor's movie, revolving around the interplay between Donovan and Morse, both of whom give strong performances in what's essentially a play within a movie. It's a pretty good play within a movie. I just wish there was a movie for it to be in. The film works best when Donovan and Morse are in a room, working through their issues. But when it leaves that room, the film doesn't seem to know where it is, or what it wants to do. It introduces subplots, but isn't very interested in developing them in any meaningful way. There's a theater metaphor, but it feels tacked-on and forced.

In many ways, COLLABORATOR feels like a compromise. It wants to be a measured, European character drama, but lacks the confidence that it can pull it off. Maybe we can chalk that up to a first-time director.

Ultimately, though, a lot of the film works, especially when Morse and Donovan are given opportunity to carry the film. A good actor can elevate any project. A great actor can make you forget any number of mistakes. This is what we have here--a mediocre movie with a couple of great performances at the core. It hides a lot of problems, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. [C-]

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.