Friday, July 6, 2012


Collaborator promises at first to be pleasantly loaded with subtext. Slow tracking shots make even luxurious environments look ominous as well cared-for while slightly haggard-looking people move languidly through stylishly spare homes and offices that might have come straight from the pages of Dwell. But it turns out to be merely ponderous, packed full of somber symbols and meta metaphors.

Writer/director Martin Donovan gives himself the self-flattering lead role of playwright Robert Longfellow, a writer once lauded as the “voice of his generation.” He may be worried that he is, as a snarky review puts it, “fading into irrelevancy,” but he’s still surrounded by adoring women (the gorgeous, successful wife he cheated on and then retreated from emotionally, the gorgeous, successful mistress he abandoned, the nurturing mother he hasn’t visited in years) who can’t help but love him even though he neglects them. And he’s still a slick operator whose preternaturally cool, silky voice and James Bond-ish sangfroid make his inevitable triumph seem inevitable.

Which is a problem when Robert goes back home to check in on his mom and gets taken hostage by her neighbor Gus, a loser Robert has known since they were both kids. Gus and Robert’s gunpoint encounter and the interactions between them as they hole up in Robert’s mother’s house form the story’s central conflict, but Robert maintains both his cool and his control of the situation so impeccably that it never feels genuinely suspenseful, scary, or character-revealing—let alone politically significant, which turns out to be the brass ring Donovan’s straining for with this overdetermined pas de deux.

Gus is played by David Morse, one of a handful of excellent actors, including Katherine Helmond as Robert’s mother and Eileen Ryan as Gus’s, whose talents aren’t much in evidence here. Morse’s exaggerated macho boom may be meant to telegraph Gus’s misbegotten attempts to compensate for the childhood abuse and learning disabilities the script spells out for us, but it just makes it seem as if the actor, not the character, is trying too hard to play a part.

After a lot of ponderous foreshadowing (you know someone named Kevin is going to turn out to be important when Robert’s mother keeps calling him that) and on-the-nose dialogue, much of it reeled off in the context of acting exercises between him and Gus that Robert concocts to keep control of the situation, we wind up at the climax: a hamfisted dramatization of the political divide between red and blue America that centers around—wtf?—the war in Vietnam.

In one piece of dialogue that manages to be both on-the-nose and meta, Gus tells Robert he’s sick of “the movies they show now” because “there’s nothing there; no real people in ‘em.” I don’t agree with him in general: There are a lot of very realistic and moving films getting made these days, if not getting booked in first-run theaters. But he does have a point when it comes to this movie, whose sanctimonious attempts to be “real” only make it that much more of an exercise in baby boomer narcissism.

Written for The L Magazine

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