Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: October 26th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Terry George Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Ruffalo, Elle Fanning, Eddie Alderson, Mira Sorvino, John Slattery
uman suffering is an interesting subject for cinema, since it possesses a relative ease in connecting with viewers and evoking emotions. “Reservation Road” succeeds in emphasizing the catastrophic events of a hit-and-run accident with astoundingly powerful performances from everyone in the cast. Where it fails is in its documentary approach at portraying the mental aftermath of a tragedy and the dearth of plausible satisfaction for the conclusion. As “Reservation Road” reluctantly concedes early on, when none of the characters win, neither does the audience.
Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix), his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly), and their two young children Emma (Elle Fanning) and Josh (Sean Curley) stop at a gas station on Reservation Road – only to have their lives unsuspectingly swept out from under them when Josh is killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver, Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), in shock from the incident and afraid of complicating the potential loss of his own son, whom he struggles to see despite strict court orders from a sticky divorce, attempts to hide his damaged SUV and any signs of the crime. But with unnervingly unforeseen coincidence, Dwight is hired as a lawyer to investigate the occurrence, while his wife happens to tutor little Emma. Wrought with guilt and the fear of judgment by his impressionable young son, Dwight weighs his options as his world crumbles around him. Meanwhile, Ethan, overcome with grief, seeks vigilante justice when the ineffectiveness of local law enforcement becomes apparent.
First and foremost, the acting is peerlessly superior to just about everything else so far this year. Undeniably Academy Award-worthy performances pour forth from Jennifer Connelly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mark Ruffalo. Each of these characters suffers in different ways, but their portrayals are so heartbreakingly riveting that every time they burst into tears, so will audiences. Few performances are able to elicit such staggering emotions, but “Reservation Road’s” ensemble cast does so with ease. Of course, its tragedy-rich plotline is a surefire target for compassion.
Early on, it’s clear that Dwight’s flight from the hit-and-run accident was caused by a combination of fear and ignorance. But his own continual suffering, from both a guilty conscience that eats away at him and the turmoil of his parental conflicts, encourages pity; viewers won’t necessarily wish him to see him apprehended or dispatched. This leads to a morality problem for the audience; the antagonist is made to suffer and exhibit such a pitiable humanity that it muddies up the potential for satisfaction when his sins catch up to him. It’s quite a complex character study, wherein every part sacrifices something and no one emerges unsullied. In this case, the result is a very abrupt finale, devoid of any of the satisfaction or finality that could have been achieved with moderate scripting alterations. “Reservation Road” makes the mistake of creating very emotionally monumental pieces that overshadow the truncated climax and denouement – and the film as a whole.
While the end itself pales in comparison to the panic-inducing build, credit must be given to the utterly suspenseful and brilliantly twisty first two acts. “Reservation Road” wastes no time careening right into the nerve-wracking plot, with powerhouse performances that won’t likely be forgotten as it tells a potent tale of woe, compounded by layers of grief, anxiety, and regret. It’s striking material, adapted by John Burnham Schwartz from his own novel, even if its execution prevents it from being a cinematic masterpiece.
– Mike Massie