November 25, 2007 -- “Reservation Road” is a tale of two fathers under stress, trying to maintain their sanity in extreme circumstances. The story builds to a tremendous climax and a life and death struggle when the two fathers finally confront each other. Before that, however, it is really two stories about two fathers each trying to cope with pain and stress. This is a well-crafted film with some interesting plot twists.
One father is Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo of “Zodiac”) a divorced lawyer who spends weekends with his son, Lucas (Eddie Alderson) and is just barely hanging on. His violent temper may someday cause him to lose visitation rights. After driving to Boston from Connecticut to see a Red Sox game, he is in trouble with his ex-wife, Ruth (Mira Sorvino of “The Summer of Sam”) because the game ran long and the traffic was bad coming home. He's going to be late and he is under pressure to get home quickly, a task made tougher by Ruth's repeated calls. Dwight swerves to miss oncoming traffic and accidentally hits a young boy, Josh Learner (Sean Curley) who happens to be standing near the road. He stops, then takes off again, afraid the accident will cause him to lose his visitation rights.
The dead boy's father, Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix of “We Own the Night”) and mother, Grace (Jennifer Connelly of “Blood Diamond”) are devastated by the loss. Grace gradually pulls herself together for the sake of her daughter, Emma (Elle Fanning of “Deja Vu”) and her husband. Ethan is consumed by anger when the police are unable to find his son's killer. He becomes more morose, angry and withdrawn, isolating himself from his family. He finds comfort with strangers in an Internet forum devoted to families who have lost loved ones to hit and run accidents. The conversation, however, only serves to fan Ethan's hatred. He gets an idea from the victim's group, however to hire a lawyer to pursue justice, and perhaps a lawsuit against the driver. Ironically, the firm he hires is the one that the driver, Dwight Arno, belongs to.
Dwight is put in the uncomfortable position of trying to prod the police to catch Josh's killer, which happens to be himself. Wracked by guilt, Dwight decides to turn himself in, but the policeman in charge of the case, Sergeant Burke (Antoni Corone of “We Own the Night”) tells Dwight that unless the hit and run driver turns himself in, police are probably going to have to put the case on the back burner because they aren't getting anywhere. Dwight seems to want to turn himself in, but can't quite bring himself to do it. He decides to spend the week of the World Series with his son (the story is set in 2004, a year the Red Sox won the series) before turning himself in. He tells Ruth he will be gone for a long time after that. Ethan, in the meantime has grown impatient with the police and has started his own investigation. He has also bought a gun. Dwight and Ethan are on a collision course.
The film, directed by Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”) does a nice job of building tension in this dual storyline. Mark Ruffalo gives a fine performance as a man consumed by guilt and worry. Joaquin Phoenix is equally good as a man being consumed by hatred and obsession. Jennifer Connelly also gives a fine performance as a woman being pulled apart by mixed emotions under the burden of trying to provide strength for her whole family as it falls apart around her. The film is a bit slow-moving and there are a lot of coincidences (like Ruth being Emma's piano teacher), but this all happens in a fairly small town where Josh and Lucas are about the same age and would probably be in the same school. These kinds of coincidences are much more likely to happen in a small town than they would in a larger city. This is a good psychological and moral drama. It rates a B.
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