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Fireflies and the Effects of Extinguishing a Brief Life

  • Apr 12, 2008
The profound effects of the accidental death of a child on three families is vividly portrayed in this dark film by writer/director Terry George ('Hotel Rwanda', Hart's War', 'In the Name of the Father') as adapted and co-written by John Burnham Schwartz on whose novel the film is based. While it seems we are seeing a glut of films dealing with revenge on the part of injured people who feel the Law isn't fulfilling its duty, when a film such as RESERVATION ROAD comes along the theme feels fresh.

Ethan and Grace Learner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) and their children Josh (Sean Curley) and Emma (Elle Fanning) are the 'perfect family', living comfortably in Connecticut, until one night after a picnic where Josh captured fireflies for his sister, the family stops at a roadside station and while Josh releases the fireflies at his mother's request he is hit by a car and killed. The driver of the car is Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) who is trying to return his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) to his estranged, remarried wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino) after a baseball game that ran too long. Instead of stopping when he hits the child, Dwight drives on, not wanting to upset his son. Within the tragedy of the next week the Learners are devastated and feel the police are not finding the perpetrator. They decide to engage a lawyer to assist the investigation and the lawyer they engage is Dwight, a man so torn by the sadness of his life that he is barely functioning - trying to find some solace in restoring a solid relationship with his son while dealing with the fact that he has killed another family's son. The events that proceed reveal the agonies of the accident and the effect of that death on both Ethan (enraged) and Grace (desperately trying to focus on her remaining child), and on Dwight (obsessed with guilt and driven to thoughts of suicide) and his ex-wife Ruth who acts as an unknowing intermediary. The final effects on each of these bruised people bring a surprising end to the story.

The quality of acting is strong as we have come to expect with the likes of Phoenix, Connelly, Ruffalo and Sorvino, who bring us into the tough story with considerable commitment: we understand the thoughts and drives of each of these sad characters. Adding to the sensitive atmosphere is yet another strong musical score by Mark Isham who understands the fine art of creating a soundtrack that enhances the story. The theme may be a bit repetitive and the script somewhat formulaic, but the emotional effect on the viewer cannot be denied. Grady Harp, April 08

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More Reservation Road reviews
review by . January 11, 2010
Too bad about the ending
When a child is killed in a hit and run accident, both his grieving father, Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix), and the guilt-ridden killer, Dwight, (Mark Ruffalo) suffer horribly. Things get even worse when Ethan hires Dwight to solve the case.       The first 90 minutes of the movie were very good. The anguish of both father and killer was intense and obviously building to an emotional climax. The actors blew it in the final scene, however; neither actor had the depth to convey the misery …
review by . May 16, 2008
Raw and gritty, the angst in Terry George's `Reservation Road' disturbs without the redeemable satisfaction of an ending that vindicates the one hour and 43 minutes invested in its viewing. Pain and grief drive this tale of two upper echelon fathers living in upper middle class Connecticut. George attempts to alternate the telling of the story from the respective vantage points of each of the main protagonists, as does John Burnham Schwartz in his original novel. He fails somewhat; in attempting …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #98
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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After grappling with civil war inSome Mother's SonandHotel Rwanda, Terry George turns to the tranquility of the American suburbs. Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz,Reservation Roadmarks 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 whetherReservation Roadwill benefit from the success ofIn the BedroomandMystic River--or suffer from the onslaught of cinematic grief. At the very least, it allows more light in at the end of its ...
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