Published Jul 12, 2012A certain French filmmaker, with a craving for magic mushrooms, once said that really depressing, sad movies can sometimes be the most positive of films. Collaborator, the new indie film from writer/director/actor Martin Donovan, definitely falls under that category. It is by no means a date movie. But at the same time it tackles themes – fidelity, loss, war and love – that could, depending on your "wheels," trump a buttery popcorn kiss from the new squeeze.
Right off the bat, Collaborator deals with concrete issues: entertainment at the expense of people's feelings. Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan), a so-called "genius" playwright in NYC, is faced with crap reviews of his new play – really crap reviews, delivered with a smile. One critic even goes so far as to dub Robert "a fading talent who once was a defining voice of his generation."
Assuming he won't get work in NYC until the stench fades, Robert takes a couple meetings out in L.A., where he bunks with his mom (Katherine Helmond) and rekindles an old flame, in movie star Emma Stiles (Olivia Williams). Unfortunately for the married Robert, he isn't the only dude on the old block with a thing for Stiles.
Ex-con Gus (David Morse), a childhood friend and neighbour of Robert's, wanders over one night to knock back some brewskis, joints, barbiturates and share his common affection for the acclaimed thespian. That is, after he holds Robert hostage, at gunpoint, and demands, through theater improvisation exercises, the answers to America's prevailing political questions, such as, "was there a point to Nam?"
Robert, the rumoured commi, doesn't think so. Gus, on the other hand, does. They argue over whether Robert's brother, a Marine who died in service, was in fact serving his country and being patriotic or acting the fool. Gus is pretty adamant about the former, likely because his father died in service, and he himself was denied entrance into the Marines because of psychological deficiencies.
This is where the true conflict of the story lies: in the rift between the plastic America and the grotesque America. It's an inner-battle between a country where entertainment anchors determine lives at the flap of a fat lip and, at its most tragic manifestation, executes the very citizens who live and die by its artificial promises.
Robert, as a writer, recognizes the tragedy in all this. And we, as the audience, are empowered to recognize the even greater tragedy: Robert's. Of course, none of this is explicitly stated. You have to put two and two together, like filmmaker Gaspar Noe says, which is what makes the film so gratifying. You, like Robert, Gus and Emma become a "collaborator." (eOne)