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Hanging with Martin Donovan in ‘Collaborator’

You’d think that an actor whose distinguishing technique is a sort of emotional monotone would be a drag to watch, and probably have a short career. For lack of a better description, though, that’s the way we tend to think of Martin Donovan: serious-faced, and projecting a demeanor that doesn’t stray much from his subdued baseline, no matter how agitating or offbeat the situation. And he’s managed to hold our interest by doing just that since his indie-epitomizing character work for director Hal Hartley back in the early ’90s. (You’ve seen him most recently in Kelsey Grammer’s “Boss.”) Donovan gives his skills a solid showcase in his writing and directing debut, “Collaborator” (2012), another story that leaves him hanging in an unusual circumstance, and watches him quietly twist. Donovan plays Robert Longfellow, a celebrated playwright whose star has dimmed, leaving him to take stock of his career, his marriage, his life. He ambivalently makes a trip home to suburban LA, and looks up an old flame (Olivia Williams). Meanwhile, the reunion he actively wants to avoid is with boyhood neighbor Gus (David Morse, top right with Donovan), a criminally troubled roughneck overeager to catch up. Robert finally relents — and Gus takes him hostage in a police standoff. Donovan and Morse (under)play it sharp, wry, and tense; the characters even try decompressing with improv and manage to remain convincing, because we get lost in it, too. It’s jangled-nerves desperation compellingly suppressed. Extras: Interviews with Donovan, Williams. (Entertainment One, $19.98)

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