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Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo and Academy Award winners Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino deliver riveting performances in the gripping thriller Reservation Road. A powerful human story of anger, revenge and great courage, this film takes you on an intense journey that follows two fathers as their families and lives converge after the events of one fateful night. "Suspenseful, emotional and completely engrossing" (Pete Hammond, Maxim), Reservation Road is "a deft, satisfying thriller" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly).
After grappling with civil war in Some Mother's Son and Hotel Rwanda, Terry George turns to the tranquility of the American suburbs. Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz, Reservation Road marks a smooth transition into seemingly alien territory. The Northern Irish director first introduces Connecticut professor Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and attorney Dwight (Mark Ruffalo). One night, they end up on the same road; Ethan is returning with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and kids from a school recital, Dwight and his son are heading home after a baseball game. In an instant, Ethan's boy is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Dwight knows what he's done, but doesn't say a word, as he doesn't want to lose custody of his child. Impatient for justice, Ethan becomes convinced the authorities will never solve the case, so he tries to track down the killer himself. Coincidence builds on coincidence--Dwight's ex-wife (Mira Sorvino) teaches Ethan's daughter (Elle Fanning), and Ethan hires Dwight as his lawyer. Just as the attorney-client relationship forces the two men to work together, the script asks the same of these gifted actors. Fortunately, Phoenix and Ruffalo rise to the occasion. That said, movies about grieving parents can be a tough sell. It remains to be seen whether Reservation Road will benefit from the success of In the Bedroom and Mystic River--or suffer from the onslaught of cinematic grief. At the very least, it allows more light in at the end of its dark journey into the soul. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from Reservation Road (click for larger image).
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The movie has so many strong points and it deals with one of the most painful losses a parent can endure - and in such a terribly tragic and sudden way, no warning at all.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: When the Lerner family is driving home one night, they make a stop at a gas station. That is when their son gets out of the car to let some lightening bugs out of a jar, a car comes along, hits him and kills him - and two families' lives are forever changed. Joaquin Phoenix does a fine job as Ethan, the father of the dead boy. His anger is palpable. Also, if you see the DVD make sure you listen to his description of how hard it was for him to channel that anger. He actually had to talk to victims to get a sense of how they felt after losing a child.
It is hard not to feel sorry for both fathers - the one whose son was killed and the one who accidentally was the killer. Dwight Arno is the man who happened to drive into the boy and his pervading sadness is crafted superbly by Mark Ruffalo, an actor who always seems on the edge of sadness to me.
These men have wives, of course, and I don't mean to slight them - or the actresses behind their depiction. Jennifer Connelly is Grace, wife to Ethan and mother of the dead child. Mira Sorvino is equally strong as Dwight's wife, although they are divorced, but share custody of a son.
Having noted the solid acting in this movie, I do have to add that the plot did disappoint, having such high expectations after having read the book. The movie came very, very close to capturing the tone of the book but I think (in this case) the book's style, word choice and tone did not translate well to film. I don't fault the actors and I'm not sure ANY script could have done justice to the book.
What ended up on screen seemed overly long and somehow "off" from the perfection of the book's story. This is a very personal interpretation, of course, and others may well love this movie. Trying to catch the various facets of grief after a child dies is a difficult task for even the best of actors and actresses. Again, listening to Jennifer Connelly, Mark Ruffalo and the others speak about how they approached the movie might give some insight into why they came close - but fell short of the task.
Connelly admits that she could not think of the subject personally or imagine such a tragedy happening to her own child. Joaquin Phoenix felt sympathy towards the other father and had to learn how to dredge up anger and pain. Ultimately, the result is a film with integrity and heart but still lacking the flow and strength that would have made it wholly compelling. Again, my take and bias may come from having read the book and wanting the movie to live up to that.
I also want to note that I am a fan of Terry George, the man who made this movie. I loved Hotel Rwanda. This time around, however, I think the results weren't quite as spectacular.
We follow the paths of two fathers - one stricken by grief at the hit-and-run death of his son, and the other, the perpetrator - as they attempt to deal with the tragic events of one split second in time...When one man loses his son, and when the other man makes a hasty decision to drive away.
Mark Ruffalo's performance is pitch perfect as the hit-and-run driver, tormented by fear and guilt - fear of losing his son, whose mother (Mira Sorvino) has primary custody, and who stands ready at any moment to deny contact with his son - and guilt at what he, an attorney, has done. Tortured and tormented...We almost empathize with his plight.
And then on the other hand, Joaquin Phoenix, as the grieving father, and Jennifer Connelly, as the grief-stricken mother, convince us with their overwhelming emotions and the ever-increasing isolation from one another, that nothing will ever make this right until the perpetrator is caught.
The police seem to be pushing the case onto a back burner as no tangible clues come to light.
So the couple seeks legal representation - someone to help push the police to solve the case. And whose firm do they choose to represent them? None other than the one for which the perpetrator works!
We see the suspenseful, emotional and completely engrossing moments unfold as the paths converge - fathers on parallel paths - until resolution comes with a surprising twist.
Reservation Road is a haunting portrayal of tragic events and their aftermath.