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Reservation Road
cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, and Elle Fanning

director: Terry George

98 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace Jennifer (Connolly) are returning from a cello recital when their son Josh (Sean Curley) is killed in a hit and run. Devastated, they struggle to keep their relationship alive as Ethan's rage threatens to consume him and Grace focuses on looking after their surviving child Emma (Elle Fanning). At the same time, single father Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) struggles to first conceal and then confess his crime to his ex-wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino) and son Lucas (Eddie Alderson). Gradually, the two families are drawn together and the question becomes not whether the two fathers will be consumed by events, but which one will be consumed first.

Ruffalo and Phoenix are two of the finest actors of their generation, it's really that simple and here both get ample opportunity to do their best work. Phoenix in particular is excellent as Ethan, a man who is clearly an excellent father, an excellent husband and completely incapable of dealing with the random cruelty that robs him of his son. His conspiracy theories and obsessive attachment to Josh's life are heartbreaking to watch because, for the most part, they're done so quietly. There are only two moments where Ethan breaks in the entire film and when he does, the rage is palpable, almost visible. This is a man who believes he has lost everything and as a result feels he has nothing left to lose. Despite this, Phoenix still grounds the character in a way that is, at times, desperately moving. The moment where Ethan buys a gun and can't fit the bullets in, fumbling with it because he's an academic and not used to this sort of thing says more about the character and how far he's been pushed than dialogue ever could, for example.

Ruffalo, as Dwight, should be the villain of the piece. He's an actor who has never been afraid to find the crumpled, unsympathetic edges of the character and Dwight is no exception, an abrasive and, implied, difficult ex-husband who is already on thin ground with his ex-wife. For all that though, there's a sense that Dwight is a good man in a bad situation, that he's had a run of bad luck and has spent more time reacting to that than doing the right thing and like Phoenix, Ruffalo plays him as a smart, articulate man completely out of his depth. In one of his best scenes, he's called to represent Ethan and tries to confess to the desk sergeant at the police station. Everything he says is about his guilt but the sergeant hears the same banalities he does every day, trapping Dwight within the situation. It's a nice moment, as is the calm that descends on him when he finally decides what to do and both men are to be applauded for their work here.

Connolly brings a quiet, upfront honesty to her role and her strength of character is one of the most impressive elements of the film's second hour. Sorvino, frankly, may as well not be in the film her character is so little used. Both women could stand more screen-time and it's a real shame that two actresses of this calibre are relegated to relatively minor roles. On a more positive note, Alderson is great as Lucas, Dwight's son as is Fanning as Emma.

Reservation Road is a serious, intelligently crafted and beautifully acted film. But for all that it never grabs the audience, ultimately becoming little more than a showcase for two of the best performers working today. They're excellent here and the film itself is strong but anyone looking for a visceral emotional response will come away disappointed.
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