Movie Review: Donovan's Echo

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Danny Glover stars in this supernatural mystery as a man who returns home to the site of an early tragedy and begins seeing premonitions of the past repeating itself. The mystery isn't that surprising, but Glover's portrayal of complicated regret is worth watching.

Starring: Danny Glover, Bruce Greenwood and Natasha Calis

Rating: Two and a half stars out of five

Danny Glover is most famous for being exasperated with Mel Gibson -- and welcome to that club -- in the Lethal Weapon movies, but on his own, he's an actor with an earthy command. In Donovan's Echo, a first film by a Canadian director named Jim Cliffe, Glover plays Donovan, an aging mathematician who returns to his hometown shouldering a lifetime of regrets, as well as a quiet alcoholism, on the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident.

Donovan has a complicated background -- something to do with helping develop the atomic bomb, then making up for it by inventing cold fusion -- and not always a persuasive one, but Glover gives it a kind of magisterial heaviness. His delivery has deepened into a coarse whisper that carries all of Donovan's unhappiness: Like Leonard Cohen, whose singing voice has become an instrument as intimate as sandpaper, Glover can just barely croak out his alienation.

Donovan's Echo is set in 1994, but it also hearkens back to 1964, the year Donovan's family died. He keeps running into reminders -- hints of the past attached to a feeling of deja vu -- that make him wonder if he is repeating history. He seems to know what's going to happen, and if he can stop it, maybe he will have repaid his debt.

The supernatural mystery has become a genre of it own, speaking of deja vu, but Donovan's Echo is more interested in the subtext of "hope." Donovan is haunted by reminders -- those newspaper headlines that seem to exist only in movies that say things like "Highway tragedy;" a key that has a symbol of a snake eating its tail, a symbol that is repeated on a book about re-living the past; an old newspaper ad about a dinosaur show that is identical to an ad for a dinosaur movie that is playing in the present day.

His stumbling confusion begins when he has a vision that a neighbourhood girl named Maggie (a mature performance by Natasha Calis) is going to die under a scaffold, and he manages to save her at the last minute. It's a vision that he had about his own daughter, also named Maggie.

Further premonitions also haunt him, most of them dismissed by Finnley (Bruce Greenwood), his nice-guy brother-in-law who -- in a bit of invisible irony -- becomes increasingly exasperated with Donovan's visions. "I thought that you'd come back because you didn't want to run any more," Finnley tells Donovan, but it turns out that something bigger may have drawn him there.

The mystery in Donovan's Echo is not so mysterious if you pay any attention at all: The screenplay by Cliffe and Melodie Krieger provides several hints that verge on the clunky, so we never buy the ambiguity that might have made this story a more interesting examination of self-forgiveness. There are also a few maladroit scenes of Donovan's dreams, a jumble of symbols that all eventually pay off in the climax.

Still, Donovan's Echo keeps you watching, if only to see how Glover manages to make the character's rising desperation seem both invented and urgent. Even if we don't always buy the story, we buy him.

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