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Published July 31st, 2007 | by Mike Barnard

Reservation Road Review

Classification: 15 Director: Terry George Rating: 2.5/5

A selection of fine, respected actors taking their cue from a two-time Oscar nominated director makes little progress in Reservation Road as they all get so caught up in being introspective, there’s a lack of emotion left on the outside to pull us into a story of grief, guilt, pain and suffering. Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo head up the cast as two fathers battling a twist of fate that threatens to push them over the edge. With so much talent available, and an acclaimed novel by John Burnham Schwartz as the source material, Reservation Road is an earnest adaptation trying too hard to push a very obvious point home.

At the centre of the story is Ethan Learner (Phoenix), a successful college professor happily married to loving wife Grace (Connelly) with two children Emma (Fanning) and Josh (Curley). On a drive home one evening, Josh is killed in a hit and run incident at a petrol station, sending Ethan on a mission of vengeance. The driver of that car, Dwight (Ruffalo), is stricken with guilt, but is so keen to prove to ex-wife Ruth (Sorvino) he can be a father to be proud of for son Lucas (Alderson) that he can’t bring himself to admit to being the driver. However, as a law associate he suddenly finds himself confronted by a furious Ethan desperate to find his son’s killer who happens to stand unknowingly right in front of him as the man charged with helping him.

The ironic juxtaposition of the two men, with their contrasting desires to flush out the truth and also to hide it completely, is wasted on ponderous shots of the men sitting alone in the homes and failing to get back into any kind of routine. Ruffalo and Phoenix give their finest tortured soul performances, but its hard to develop any emotional attachment to either when director Terry George is too caught up with artistic cinematography to accompany a gently manipulative score. He only scratches the surface of Connelly, Sorvino and Fanning’s characters, which is a shame as their womanly perspective could have been used more to understand the male leads more effectively.

When the simmering heat between Ethan and Dwight does finally boil over, the dramatic realisation both men come to throws up no surprises and is reminiscent of the conclusion of a soap opera feud. Every effort has been made to elevate Reservation Road’s stature to one of those weighty human nature films such as Crash and even George’s celebrated Hotel Rwanda, it just doesn’t provide any sudden moments of enlightenment or self-discovery beyond a tragic event followed by the obvious collision course of the two men. The power behind it all dies half way, and the remainder stutters with only the fine performances from Ruffalo and Phoenix likely to keep you watching.

EXTRASDeleted scenes and feature “Looking back on Reservation Road”.

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