- Vancouver, British Columbia - This year at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I made the decision to watch at least one Canadian film. All in all, I would say that I am a supporter of Canadian cinema, but often I feel that our film industry still hasn't found its footing as most of our movies tend to be overshadowed by mainstream American movies. And unfortunately, there are some stereotypes that come with Canadian films, often being thought of as boring or even sometimes pretentiously artsy. I believe in our cinema and what it can be, so it's nice when I get a chance to see a movie like Donovan's Echo, which isn't boring, nor is it pretentiously artsy.
It is the year 1994 and Donovan (Danny Glover) has just returned to his home town after years of roaming. He has become an alcoholic, as he still is mourning the death of his wife and daughter from 30 years before. By chance he happens to meet a young neighbour of his, a girl named Maggie (Natasha Calis), who Donovan feels a strange connection to. After many strange visions, Donovan starts to belive that Maggie's life is in danger, and that somehow, it is connected to the death of his family all those years ago.
Donovan's Echo is written and directed by B.C. native Jim Cliffe. While this is his first feature film, he handles the material like a veteran. The movie balances a lot of tragedy and drama, but is very careful not to smother the audience. There are often moments of subtle humour that keep events feeling very real. The lighter moments never betray the overall tone of the film however; ultimately the story is very sad. It speaks a lot on the value of people, and how easy it can be to take family for granted.
The most important aspect that lends to the film's success is the mystery. Donovan is not well, no matter which way you look at it, and his judgment is easily doubted. The audience trusts his character as far as his intentions go, but as for what is actually happening, there are many factors that lead and mislead us to believe one thing or another. I'm being vague, I know, but I'm trying to be mysterious myself. Why would I ruin anything if you could watch it yourself? The story is revealed at the ideal pace. It's just enough so we wonder, but not so much that we're frustrated.
The performances are very strong. Canadian film veteran Bruce Greenwood contributes as Donovan's brother in law, and also serves as one of the movie's executive producers. He, for better or for worse, works as the voice of reason and is there for the audience to connect to, often asking the same question as the viewers. Greenwood plays him to be strong and likeable, but not infallible. It's also good to see a strong, young child actor in Natasha Calis, who portrays Maggie to be a smart, and sometimes passive preteen, who is mourning the death of her father, but not obviously. She keeps up strong appearances, but we see tragedy in her eyes. And of course, our lead actor, Danny Glover, works well as our title character. He is a man trying to make sense of a situation that could be his path to redemption. We see such brokenness in Donovan, but often he hides the pain. I suppose him and Maggie are similar that way.
Donovan's Echo isn't perfect. There are a few scenes which come off as a bit forced, most of which are dream sequences. But overall I feel that if I focus much on those moments, I'm nitpicking at a very strong movie. The script is smart and the direction is clear, but most of all, there is material that the audience can connect to. More films like this and our film industry just might stand a chance.
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes