October 27, 2007

REVIEW: Reservation Road (B-)

Background: Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz, Reservation Road is directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and stars Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me, Zodiac), Jennifer Connelly (Little Children, Blood Diamond), and Joaquin Phoenix (We Own the Night, Walk the Line). You might also recognize Elle Fanning, little sister of Hollywood darling Dakota (War of the Worlds). It was filmed on location in Connecticut. Wow, I just saw the trailer for the first time - that's a great trailer and it only gives away as much as I'm about to, which is a lot.

Synopsis: College professor Ethan Learner (Phoenix) and his wife Grace (Connelly) are returning from their son's cello recital when they stop for wiper fluid (?). Attorney Dwight Arno (Ruffalo) is delivering his son (about the same age as the Learner boy) to his ex-wife's house after taking him to a Red Sox game. Because of a cell phone call and some fireflies, Dwight accidentally hits and kills the Learner's son - and leaves the scene (Reservation Road) without being identified. Over the course of the next month, Ethan and Grace try to put the pieces together in their life, Grace looking to heal and move on but Ethan wanting revenge against whoever hit his son. Dwight is racked with guilt but can't find it in himself to confess to the police. By incredible chance, Dwight's ex-wife was the music teacher of the Learner's son, Dwight lives down the street from the Learners, and Ethan Learner hires Dwight to handle his legal affairs with the case. Despite all of this pressure, Dwight still doesn't turn himself in, and Ethan grows more desperate in his attempts to find his son's killer. Eventually his suspicions settle on Dwight, leading to a final confrontation between the two hurting fathers.

I Loved:
+ That I really didn't know what was going to happen at the end.

I Liked:
+ When Jennifer Connelly found out about the fireflies.
+ Mark Ruffalo's performance - he's an excellent nervous actor and was great for this role.

I Disliked:
- When Jennifer Connelly flipped out about their son's belongings.
- The online chat forum - what kind of a weird program was that? The interface was really bizarre, and it was odd online dialogue.
- Joaquin Phoenix with a beard - weird and not a good look.
- The focus on the Red Sox - there was too much time spent watching and discussing baseball when we could have been learning more about the characters.
- The poor acting by Antoni Corone as Sgt. Burke.

I Hated:
- The obviously fake tear that dropped on the camera viewfinder in the last shot - that was really poorly pulled off and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 4
Significance - 4

Total: 40/50= 80% = B-

Last Word: In addition to some awkward dialogue and a few too many coincidences, my main criticism of Reservation Road is that it drags a bit. It feels longer than it actually is, and either out of nervousness or boredom, you might find yourself looking for some action. Also, something about the evolution of Joaquin Phoenix's character didn't really click, though it was a believable performance. And, the marriage between Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly dissolved strangely, but I'm sure a tragedy will take its toll in different ways. Mark Ruffalo successfully made me squirm, though the reasons he didn't turn himself in could have been flushed out a bit more. God forbid I ever hit something on the road, but if my wits are about me I really don't think I could just take off. What would you do? Overall I think it's a story worth adapting to film, but a few issues with the production/editing,
some unbelievable story elements, and poor character development all weaken what should have been a very powerful movie.

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