2007 - United States / Germany - 102 minutes
Director - Terry George
Writer - John Burnham Schwartz (novel & screenplay) and Terry George
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
The excellent acting of Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo raises the level of Reservation Road from what might have been a run-of-the-mill film seen on some cable network such as Lifetime to an engrossing look at two men enduring an unimaginable crisis.
Phoenix plays Ethan Learner, a happily married man with two children. His life couldn't be any better, but that is soon to change.
Ruffalo plays Dwight Arno, a man divorced from his wife but devoted to his son. His life is surely not perfect but will soon become unbearable.
After spending an idyllic day with his family during which his son performed beautifully in a concert, Ethan packs his family into the car and heads home. Part of the day was spent catching fireflies which it was decided would be released so they wouldn't die. Ethan's daughter has the need to use the restroom, so the family stops at a gasoline station. Unbeknownst to Ethan, his son decides to release the fireflies in some bushes near the road.
Dwight has spent the day at a Red Sox game with his son. The game has into overtime and Dwight's ex-wife keeps calling and drumming at him being late for the agreed upon drop off time. Dwight's mind is occupied with the stress of the bitterness with his ex-wife over visitations with his son which causes him to swerve on the road and hit Ethan's son. Dwight hesitates but then drives on.
From here proceeds a story with coincidences, twists of fate, despair, rage, and an edge-of-seat climatic scene delivered with fervor by Phoenix and Ruffalo as Ethan and Dwight.
As I said, this sounds as if it would make a perfect Lifetime movie, but the portrayal of the lives of these two men after this tragic accident is far above par for a movie of this sort, and the acting of the entire cast plus the deft direction of Terry George are to be credited in making this an first-rate film.
The women of this film are Jennifer Connelly as Ethan's wife, Grace, and Mira Sorvino as Dwight's ex-wife, Ruth.
Connelly gives a heart wrenching performance as a mother whose child is killed who only wants to hide away from life, but her strength and devotion to her daughter and husband enable her to move forward in an effort to save her crumbling family.
Sorvino first appears as a shrill harridan-like woman who, over the period of the film, softens into a more insightful human being.
I would be remiss if I did not cite the performances of the two leading children in this film.
Eddie Alderson as Dwight's pre-adolescent son gives a stirring performance as a boy torn between the love and doubt of his father.
Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister) is angelic and strong as the Learner daughter. Her innocent and pure insight to the death of her brother provides support to her devastated parents. Those Fanning girls surely know how to act.
Reservation Road triumphs over what might have been a bland hour and a half to give the viewer some very good entertainment.
April 13, 2008