Halfway home to being a really good little clairvoyant thriller, Donovan's Echo would have benefited greatly from a Stephen King rewrite.
Yes, so would many films, but Jim Cliffe's feature debut has an intriguing, slightly askew plot that the king of pulp fiction would enjoy tinkering with.
The Canadian movie, which stars Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood, knows how creepy-crawly mysteries are supposed to feel. At its best, too late perhaps, Donovan's Echo exudes a cold, clammy feeling. That's proper for a psychological thriller. Watching it, we feel like we've slipped into damp clothes on a wintry night.
Then again, there are the film's faulty mechanics. The plot moves slowly. And there is too much of it. Glover plays Donovan, a math genius who worked on the Manhattan Project. Guilt for his role in pushing the world into the atomic age leads Donovan to abandon his family, throwing himself into a plan to save the planet through energy conservation. This is all told in flashback, going back to the early sixties.
In trying to redeem himself, alas, Donovan loses his wife and daughter, Magnolia, to a terrible accident.
Returning to his old hometown and house 30 years later, dragging a bottle of whisky, the mathematician falls into a sympathetic friendship with Maggie, a girl who lives next door. She's a math whiz, too, it turns out. And Maggie (Natasha Calis) is short for Magnolia.
Before long, Donovan, who has been driven mad by déjà vu for years, realizes the past is about to repeat itself unless he can finally, in the winter of his life, play hero.
His caring brother-in-law (Bruce Greenwood) worries that the old man has simply gone mad.
We wonder ourselves and in its shivery dénouement, Donovan's Echo has us sitting up straight, wondering what happens next.
We'd be right on the edge of our seats if the film's set up had been properly orchestrated. But the Manhattan Project stuff, all the flashbacks, going back and forth between the 1960s and 1990s, add up to too many distractions for a 2012 audience.
Worse, the early scenes between Donovan and his family feel rushed and purposeless. More than anything, the film lacks an attention-grabbing early scene that announces its premise. We have to do too much listening and not enough watching. The film looks like it was made by a screenwriter.
Perhaps that's too harsh. The final third of Donovan's Echo is generally sure-footed and accomplished. And screenwriter/director Cliffe coaxes good performances out of his entire cast. The scenes between Donovan and Maggie are properly tender.
Greenwood is excellent, as always. And a carefully measured performance by Sonja Bennett as Maggie's confused, protective mother contributes to a sense of stampeding panic.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed by Jim Cliffe
- Written by Jim Cliffe and Melodie Krieger
- Starring Danny Glover, Bruce Greenwood, Natasha Calis and Sonja Bennett
- Classification: PG
- 2.5 stars