Movie Review: “Collaborator” – A Free Falling Play On Film

Written by Spencer Sterritt August 23, 2012

“Collaborator” opens with dull, muffled clapping, and the protagonist Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan) staring out at a silent theatre audience from his bedroom. The auspicious theatre trappings of “Collaborator” ┬ánever fully intrude on the film, but it becomes especially clear in the dialogue and use of location that it would be much better as a play than a film.

Can’t We All Just Get Along

As Robert Longfellow, Martin Donovan does a good job at reflecting the aches and pains of constant critical disappointment. He has fallen from playwright stardom, with his newest release getting a particularly scathing review. So he practically flees New York for his mother’s house in Los Angeles to see if he can turn his career around. While he’s there, he picks up with an old friend, and possible former lover, Emma Stiles (Olivia Williams), and does his best to avoid Gus (David Morse), his old criminal neighbor.

Now there’s one happy but dumb criminal

Gus is persistent in having drinks with Martin, to the point of drunkenly cornering Martin in his garage; but the film takes it’s sweet time getting to their drinks, which of course takes a turn for the worse. We see Martin talking with his estranged wife, some film agents, and Emma Stiles, but none of it sticks. The film really shines when David Morse takes center stage, as his performance gets more and more unhinged after he takes Martin hostage. He just really wants to have those beers with him.

Once Gus has made his move, and the cops become aware of the situation, “Collaborator” takes on a tinge of absurdism, but it’s not enough. Some of it is rather fresh and chuckle worthy, like Gus pulling 6-pack after 6-pack out of his bag, but other times it falls flat, such as a particularly groan inducing snippet where Martin can’t urinate because Gus is looking at him. Thankfully the film doesn’t become zany, or have a ridiculously action-packed third act, but it could still use some livening up.

An Alright Play On Format

By mostly sticking to Martin’s house, it is evident early on how much better “Collaborator” would be as a play. Olivia Williams receives decent screen time, since Gus is enamored with her and Martin calls her up, but it is still mostly Martin Donovan and David Morse. It is definitely shot like a play as well, filled with framing and wide shots that encompass the whole set. Donovan certainly does know when to go with a close up, and he gets all the right reaction shots, but his style never invites the viewer into the home.

Just another scene of one on one interaction

The dialogue lacks a certain wit as well. The trailer and posters make it look like a witty, zinging film, but most of the dialogue never rises up from anything less than decent. It has the quick response cadence of a play, but none of the wit of noir, leaving conversations awkward and disjointed. Conversations, especially between Martin and Emma, ┬áconstantly stop and start, with them abruptly sitting up or sitting down, changing topic and turning on each other without any real flow. It leaves every conversation feeling rushed and unfinished, and it isn’t until the end of the movie that the dialogue actually starts to touch on meaningful topics, specifically the War in Iraq. But by then, it’s far too late.

More Morse

The one bright light of this film is David Morse, adding another incredible performance to his underrated resume. All the pain inside Gus really comes out in his eyes, and he plays an injured dumb puppy of a character so well. If the rest of the film followed his lead, it could have been great, but instead it’s simply just another entry on everyone’s resume.

My Rating: 5.5/10



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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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