Without the advent of home video, we would have some movies that would fairly easily fall through the cracks after a short theatrical run. Now on DVD, "Collaborator" is rich layered and intelligent thriller that is rewarding on multiple levels as a veteran character actor has turned himself into a first time director.
In “Collaborator” we meet Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan) a famous playwright who can’t seem to catch a break. His recent Broadway play was met with horrible reviews and an early cancellation, and his marriage is being tested as an old flame (Olivia Williams) has re-entered his life during a particular moment of weakness. Retreating back to his childhood home to visit his mother, Robert crosses paths with his childhood neighbor, Gus (David Morse). A right-wing, ex-con who still lives at home with his mother, Gus is Robert’s polar opposite in every possible way and when Gus holds Robert hostage at gunpoint during a drunken reunion gone terribly wrong, the drama unfolds as social status, celebrity and the imminent threat of violence converge, building up to a climax that will leave both men forever changed.
In many ways “Collaborator” plays out very much like a play with its measured and deliberate dialogue that on the screen can come off a little rigid at times, but deeper inside this film it feels like a master thesis on the process of acting itself. The direction is sparse at times, but that is ultimately what the script calls for as it builds to the confrontation that even though it was simply an excuse to have these two act circles around one another it builds to something dark and compelling in spite of the occasionally trite and awkward ‘statement’ moments that come out in the dialogue. As a writer/director Martin Donovan does deserve some credit for effectively building the tension at a measured pace rather than rushing to a variety of awkward moments throughout the entire film. While there was nothing about the script or the direction that was terribly flashy, it was all very solid and managed to rise above being nothing but a boring exercise thanks to some excellent performances.
As our protagonist playwright Robert Longfellow, Martin Donovan actually managed a very controlled performance as a man simply looking to escape his current existence. He is a desperate man, but it is more of the quiet and educated kind and it plays so perfectly with his old childhood neighbor Gus. David Morse was electric as Gus, where Donovan’s Longfellow blamed himself for his feelings and his predicament, Gus externalized it all and blamed everyone else to the point of denial. Both men are at a similar emotional crossroad in their lives, and watching the two men playoff of each other as the story built to its climax was actually quite special to watch. Only Olivia Williams as Robert’s ex-flame got any significant screen time after Donovan and Morse but she was quite effective in her role, especially during the middle of the film where she tries to bring Gus’ manic emotions back down to earth.
Special features on the DVD include interviews with Martin Donovan and Olivia Williams.
At the end of the day, there really is nothing sexy or flashy about “Collaborator” to attract people to the cinema, other than the fact that it is a quality example of the intelligent execution of a story and is very rewarding for those who appreciate that kind of precision in their storytelling.
3 out of 5 stars.