Note: Another one from me. I'm on a roll today.
Ever since I read the book Reservation Road a few years back, I thought it would make an excellent movie. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the cast — Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Connelly (and personal favorite, Elle Fanning). Unfortunately, I walked out of the theater disappointed. Not because it didn't live up to the book (really, what does?), but because it just wasn't particularly great.
The premise of the story is simple: Ethan and Grace Learner (Joaquin and Jennifer) are driving home on a windy local road on a mid-October evening with their two children. They stop for gas and when their son jumps out to release his caught fireflies, he is killed in a hit and run. Driving the car is Dwight Arno (Mark) who is rushing his young son back to his mother after a Red Sox game. After he hits the boy, which wakes up his sleeping son, he pauses. He makes eye contact for a second with Ethan, and then makes the split second decision to drive away and tell his son they just hit a log. It's an intense opening for the movie — and it's well done. The emotions are all there for the first 20 minutes. Ethan's sadness contrasted with Dwight's huge moral and ethical dilemma. Sadly, the movie cannot sustain the level of intensity they reach in the beginning. Not even close. To read the rest of my review just read more
From there, the movie sets up a series of coincidences that bring these two men together. Ethan's daughter Emma (Elle) takes piano lessons from Dwight's ex-wife (Sorvino). Ethan hires Dwight as the lawyer dealing with the case of his son's death. All of this seems to be leading up to some huge dramatic climax, or realization, or showdown, but the film lags too much for the viewer to even care all that much about what is coming next.
Joaquin, who always seems to be wrestling his own demons, plays the broken grieving father well, right down to the unhealthy obsession with finding his son's killer. I could have done without the internet chat room aspect, but I guess that was part of what was added as they adapted the movie to take place in 2004. Speaking of that recentering, here's a slightly off-topic but good example as to how this movie missed the boat regarding emotion: The movie takes place as the Red Sox were making their historic World Series run, and Dwight and his son are supposed to be avid fans. Yet, at no point are they at all excited. In fact, it seems so thrilling it might just put them to sleep. It's a bit nitpicky, I know, but it's indicative of the larger problem with the movie. There's just not enough feeling.
Jennifer Connelly is convincing as the mourning mother, but then again we all know that she can play sad like the best of 'em. In fact, that's pretty much her calling card these days. It breaks my heart a little bit to say, but the weak link in the cast was Mark Ruffalo. As endearing as he is, I'm not sure that he has the chops (or maybe this just isn't the right role) to play a character so amazingly burdened by his own guilt that he has a hard time functioning.
None of this is to say that it's a bad movie. It's a perfectly adequate movie, but with the stellar cast and interesting story, it could have been so much more.