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Palpable Albeit Predictable Pain

  • May 16, 2008
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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 to show the similarities between the two he brute forces the end product, somehow homogenizing the bottom line into a passion play of little relevance.

The connection between the two men, Joaquin Phoenix as Ethan Learner, college professor and Mark Ruffolo as Dwight Arno, lawyer, arises when Dwight, already late in delivering his son Lucas to his estranged wife and in jeopardy of breaching his visitation privileges, kills the young and talented cello prodigy, Josh Learner, in a hit and run accident. Wracked with guilty, Dwight fluctuates between knowing he must turn himself in and the realization that his life as it is will irreparably change. Ruffolo plays Arno with such a sick hang dog face that suggests too obvious a culpability that one wonders how anyone who comes into contact with him cannot know of his crime. On the other hand, Phoenix smolders with hatred and helplessness for his son's unknown killer, trawling the Internet at night for some kind of understanding from other families of hit and run victims. His wife, Grace (Jennifer Connelly) equally bereaved wants to move on, concentrating on their other child. We watch with a harried fascination as the Learner's marriage begins to disintegrate--the tragedy is too large for them to weather let along comprehend. There is nothing remarkably psychological about either man's course of thought or action; both move along like automatons preprogrammed to self-destruct. Absolutes like Vengeance and Guilt leave little room for nuanced behaviors.

With just this introductory information, you can already figure out the rest of the plot and it's ending. Eventually, Ethan discovers that Dwight is responsible for his son's death. Their confrontation rewards the audience with little joy at the righteousness of vindication. Instead the predictable climax deflates like a prognosis of terminal cancer; the adjunct players must deal with the aftermath of the inevitable societal chemotherapy and radiation that rips their family immune systems to shreds. The audience watches with equally clinical detachment.

Bottom line? Reminiscent of the hotbed of grief and pain moving the characters in Barbet Schroeder's 1996 film `Before and After', Terry George's `Reservation Road' also focuses on an upper echelon of society living a life fueled by the rewards of education and wealth, yet still trapped by out-of-control events that could happen to anyone of any circumstance but result in crushing tragedy that cannot be reasoned away. Both Mark Ruffolo and Joaquin Phoenix excel in their roles as the prospective fathers, but for the most part, each of these actors' performances borders on caricatures of the emotions they represent rather than full-fledged multi-faceted personalities that are nudged by the other concerns of everyday life. Recommended with reservation.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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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 . April 12, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
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.   &n …
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Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #167
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … 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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