‘Collaborator,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


Where do writers get their ideas? How do they go about putting words in other people’s mouths?

To writers, it seems like an unanswerable question: It’s a compulsion, a need, an itch that needs to be scratched on a semi-regular basis. But the process seems like a mysterious one to some people, who can’t imagine … well, that’s the problem – they can’t imagine.

Which is one of the ideas at the center of “Collaborator.” The film, an assured directorial debut for actor Martin Donovan (who also wrote the script), is smart, funny and tense, featuring a riveting performance by David Morse.

Donovan himself is at the center of the film, as playwright Robert Longfellow. Initially glimpsed suffering the throes of a critical drubbing of his newest play in New York, he heads home to his mother’s house in the San Fernando Valley. He’s trying to escape the humiliation, as well as the wife and family he’s neglected while producing his play; his cover is concern for his mother (Katherine Helmond), who he thinks should move to an assisted-living facility.

His agent tries to sell him on doing a polish (for a big paycheck) on a big action film, not exactly Robert’s comfort zone. But he’s also drawn to an actress, Emma Stiles (Olivia Williams), with whom he had a flirtation years before, when she acted in his plays. He reunites with her, promising to try to adapt a screenplay from a book she’s sent him.

But Robert finds himself the object of attention from a neighbor named Gus (David Morse), a friend of Robert’s late older brother who still lives across the street from the Longfellow family home with his own mother. Gus spots Robert and drops by a couple of times to try to coax Robert into having a beer with him, an offer that Robert politely dodges – until the moment he can no longer avoid it.

As they’re drinking and talking (and smoking a joint Gus has with him), police cars start rolling up in front of Gus’ house. When a SWAT officer knocks on Robert’s door to evacuate him so they can use the house as an operations center, the truth emerges: Gus is the object of their surveillance and Gus has a gun – which means Robert is his hostage until further notice.


This review continues on my website.

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