Review: “Donovan Reid”

A young man walks into a police station. Either unable or unwilling to speak, he non-verbally asks for something with which to write. Given a pen and a piece of paper, he scribbles down and displays the following: “I am Donovan Reid”.

So begins Donovan Reid, a film co-written and directed by former Petaluman Austin Smagalski. Filmed in the North Bay and featuring a plethora of local talent, it premiered at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival in February and is now available for rental on Amazon (free with Prime.)

Donavan Reid disappeared without a trace from a small seaside community ten years ago and Detective Schleicher (Mike Schaeffer) has been on the case since then. When a young man (Weston Lee Ball) who identifies himself as Donovan presents himself, he has his doubts. Joining him in his skepticism is Donovan’s mother Linda (Lydia Revelos), but his father Hank (Anthony Martinez) is sure his son has come home. As Donovan settles back into a family life, we flashback to scenes between him and an older woman (Kimberly Kalember) whose relationship to Donovan is not clear, though she is certainly limiting in his interactions with others. Who is she? More importantly, who is he?

No doubt inspired by the 2012 documentary The Imposter, which covered the fascinating case of a French confidence artist who successfully impersonated a missing Texas boy and who fooled a significant number of people before being exposed, Smagalski adds several layers of mystery to a standard “missing persons” drama. The “twists” in the film, which upon close inspection often strain credulity, do manage to keep the audience invested in the story.  

Weston Lee Ball

Smagalski does a very good job in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension. The film is well shot by cinematographer Christine Adams and a big assist goes to composer Jared Newman for his evocative score. The script is a problem, however, as indicated by the film’s best moments being its quietest and its best performances being given by the actors with the least dialogue.

Weston Lee Ball has definite screen presence and his physical performance is crucial to the character’s believability. Conversely, Anthony Martinez is burdened by some really trite dialogue and there’s a particularly poorly scripted and delivered “drunk” scene. Lydia Revelos is another performer who, through body language and/or a look, communicates more than the script. Schaeffer is solid in his limited role as the cop and Kalember is appropriately indecipherable as Donovan’s “guardian”. Jazmine Pierce has some nice moments as a family friend/reporter.

I can’t really describe where the script loses its credibility without revealing spoilers, but I’ll throw a few generalities out there:

  • A boy missing for ten years suddenly reappears and no one in town seems to hear about till it’s published in a weekly?
  • A certain event takes place in a very public location and no one sees it?
  • A young man is being held in a home for a decade yet is often seen outside but apparently doesn’t go to school, and no one questions it?
  • And this all takes place in a really small geographic area and in a really compacted time frame?

I could go on, but the point is made. One or two believability blips I could excuse, but Smagalski and co-writer Edward Hamel’s script stretches plausibility more than it should.

Script issues aside, it’s a promising first-feature effort by Smagalski that belies its low budget. Running a brisk 78 minutes, it’s a good-looking, well-scored, and generally well-acted film that really could have used a more finely-tuned script.

Photos by Glass Creek Pictures

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