Terry George, John Burnham Schwartz (Novel: John Burnham Schwartz)
Joaquin Phoenix, Elle Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Ruffalo, Eddie Alderson, Sean Curley, Cordell Clyde Lochin, Antoni Corone, Mira Sorvino, Gary Kohn, John Slattery, Nora Ferrari
When the police don’t do their jobs fast enough, citizens take matters into their own hands. That’s the major impetus driving the actions of the characters in the new Terry George film Reservation Road.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Ethan Learner, the father of a young boy killed in a hit-and-run accident along New England’s Reservation Road (hence the title). When Sergeant Burke (Antoni Corone) fails to solve the crime quickly enough, Learner takes matters into his own hands. His wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) watches impotently as his obsession causes a rift in their marriage, which affects their daughter (Elle Fanning) as it does her.
The motorist responsible for the incident is facing demons of his own. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is a divorced father sharing custody with his re-married wife Ruth (Mira Sorivno). He’s desperate to spend as much time with his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson). Rushing his son home after a frantic an unwarranted call by his ex, Dwight is responsible for killing Learner’s son. His first instinct is to flee. The last thing he wants is for his life to end in prison where he would be taken away from his son for some time.
As the film progresses, the audience grows increasingly irritated with how many close calls occur between the two, the most pedantic of which is Dwight becoming Ethan’s lawyer on a potential civil suit against the culprit.
In his follow up to the genocide drama Hotel Rwanda, George has crafted a paint-by-numbers revenge drama. It plods along hoping that the audience will be swayed by the performances to believe the amazing coincidences that occur. Whereas Hotel Rwanda mixed wonderful performances with an exigent story, Reservation Road feels tired and redundant.
If it weren’t for the marvelous performance of Ruffalo, the film would collapse under the weight of its own self-importance. We’re supposed to care for these characters and the closure they are seeking, but we can’t help but feel bullied by Phoenix. Although Dwight’s actions are reprehensible, Ruffalo gives him such depth and compassion that we more easily identify with him. Of course, this may be a byproduct of never having lost a loved one to a motor vehicle accident, especially a child, but Phoenix’ stereotypical performance is too forceful to be sympathetic.
With Focus’ campaign, you would be led to believe that both Dwight and Ethan are the central characters. However, the uneven tone of the picture makes that assumption questionable. To understand both characters, we would have to empathize. Early on, Phoenix gives us that. As his actions become more erratic and his motives less clear, a disconnect occurs which serves to distance the audience from the story. At that point, the film falls apart.
Sorvino and Connelly are no more than window dressing in the film, being relegated to two-dimensional caricatures of wives. Both are requisitely compassionate while being stern and admonishing of their spouses (or ex-spouse in the case of Sorvino’s character).
Reservation Road is severely lacking in direction and even though Hotel Rwanda is a powerful story, George seems out of his league with this adaptation. The written page of the source may reveal more depth and have a greater impact on the audience, but Reservation Road fails to come off as anything more than aloof.
December 7, 2007