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A full six months after Reservation Road was supposed to release in
theaters (it did, only in a very quiet handful), the film is finally,
and again, very quietly put out on DVD. I had been looking forward to
this film for some time and had been shocked by it's ill-treatment from
Focus Features. After receiving it from Netflix and viewing it, I went
out the very next day to purchase it. Where I was expecting a slow,
wrenching exploration of grief and loss, this film actually surprised
me with an untold amount of suspense and thrills. It certainly is not a
"thriller" perhaps, but where the story goes and how these characters
react leaves you on edge in several instances where you're not only
unsure of what they will do next, but you're not sure what you would do
I had read a lot about this movie before seeing it, so there were some reveals that I already knew about from my own curiosity as well as some misguided choices in what is shown in the trailer. I would have liked to see it fresh, so I will give plot points sparingly. Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly, respectively) are a well-to-do couple living in an affluent Connecticut town who lose a child in a hit and run accident. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is speeding home to deliver his young son to his ex-wife (Mira Sorvino) and leaves the scene. The unfolding story effectively explores how the Lerner family struggles to cope with an unimaginable loss to an unknown perpetrator, and how Dwight wrestles with his fragile conscience while trying to hide his crime from the authorities. I think it works better to not know how Ethan and Dwight meet and proceed to dance around this event, but when they do, is when the real enjoyment of this film begins.
Sorvino does a fine job, and Connelly, in a larger and more difficult role, does a very good job, but this film belongs to the male leads. Ruffalo is great playing a seemingly decent man who commits a heinous crime he desperately tries to hide. This is Ruffalo's best work to date and if this film had been appropriately marketed and acknowledged, it would have been a breakout for him.
As our main lead, Phoenix is just wonderful. Ethan is a devoted husband and father whose world suddenly ceases to make sense following this tragedy and seeing him pull away from his family as he gets lost in his depths of grief and fanatical in his quest to find the killer gives Phoenix room to further display his remarkable range. An actor who is blessed with naturalness and unbridled by affectations and shortcut tendencies, his portrayal of a man eaten away by unspeakable sorrow and incalculable rage is harrowing. There is a confrontation scene late in the film when Ethan is so incensed he's physically shaking, his words come out as a jumbled growl, and it's startling to witness. Seeing Phoenix actually show that level of anger makes you wonder how or what he did to get to this place. That I can't know, but I do know that it's terrifying to see this man come undone from the inside out.
Reservation Road is sad, but it doesn't wallow in a way that feels exploitive or cheap. It's a dual journey into one man's struggle to deal with a tragedy that feels beyond him, and the cowardice and humanity of a hunted man dogged by his own shaken ethics. This is a provocative, moving story that really deserves to be seen.
Astounding. Impeccably crafted drama. The story is sad and very
serious, but this is one of the most perfect examples of the art of
simple dramatic film-making that exists. This is film storytelling at
its pinnacle. On a scale of four stars, this is a five star movie. It
is mature, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
This is a story of regular people (regular, middle class white people, that is) who experience a personal tragedy. How do they each handle the tragedy? What do they become in its wake?
This is the role of a lifetime for Mark Ruffalo, and he shows us what dramatic acting is at its finest. The rest of the cast is superb, too- from the other leads to the bit players. Even the kid actors are incredibly good here. Joaquin Phoenix also gives a performance of a lifetime, Jennifer Connelly is superb, Elle Fanning is haunting. Every actor, down to the minor parts, does a fantastic job which lets you know the director made this possible. So GREAT directing!
This movie also has a perfect script. It is a classic literary work, with all the right elements of cohesive story with bigger thoughts and themes, multidimensional characters with moral shading and growth, emotional fullness. The story and characters are deep, rich, fully realized. This must have been written by an English major or serious playwright, since it has all the elements of good dramatic writing.
The direction is also perfect and unobtrusive. This movie is directed so flawlessly that the viewer never notices a shot; it is so perfect that there is only this on-screen reality, no presence whatever of a camera or even of a movie. This directing was there to give the actors what they needed to fully realize their characters.
The editing is utterly astoundingly perfect. Again, this matches the simplicity and unobtrusiveness of the directing. The cinematography is simple and perfect, appears to be shot on high quality video. The music is also perfectly placed and matched to this film. This movie is so good that I imagine they had incredible gaffers and drivers and caterers.
We, the viewers, were thoroughly engrossed in the places and the people. The audience in the movie theater was silent, absolutely silent, from the start to finish of this movie. This is a story we will think about for days and weeks to come.
The only slight bad thing about this movie is the title. I had no idea what it was supposed to be about when I was going to see it. From the word "reservation," I thought maybe it was about an Indian reservation. The promo photos make it look like some sort of adventure flick. I think the name and the ads might keep people from seeing it, and for sure will confuse them about what it is.
I guess theis movie will be depending on word of mouth, so I am happy to say here Go see it.
You wonder what goes through the minds of those involved in hit and run
accidents. In that split second after impact, you are presented a
choice, and your life will change, one way or the other. One probably
has to consider whether to stop and render assistance, and in doing so
owning up to the accident, but having a chance to save a life if the
circumstances allow for it. Or to hope that nobody saw you did what you
did, and bolt. Negligent drivers, either through drink driving, or
being distracted while on the road, probably won't elicit much
sympathy, especially so from the family of the victim, and in
Reservation Road, powerful drama is weaved amongst the characters on
both sides of the hit and run equation.
Reservation Road refers to the scene of the crime, where the Learners - dad Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix), mom Grace (Jennifer Connelly) and daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) lose their son/brother in an accident, caused by a man in a baseball cap, driving an SUV. On this angle, we follow through the pain of the family who suffer a terrible loss. The dad Ethan slowly degenerates into an obsessive wreck, trying in vain to pursue the perpetrator who's out there, through his own dogged investigations when he realizes that the cops can only do what they can given extremely limited leads which yielded no progress. The mom Grace, while at first finding it hard to accept the truth - and in the initial days, the simplest of reasons to pin the guilt in, will resonate deeply - but we see how she draws strength in the hope of keeping the family spirits up. And the daughter finds ways to cope with the loss through channeling her energies into performance.
On the other angle, Mark Ruffalo plays Dwight the lawyer, who's estranged from his wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino) and has visiting rights to their son. When the accident happens, in that split second he made the inevitable decision for self preservation, and while he may have momentarily escape from justice and the law, negative karma dictates that he will live his life being tormented by guilt from that point on, all this while trying to provide reason that he based his decision on being able to be free from jail, to continue seeing his son. Confession and owning up will see himself in the slammer, and probably losing everything. I thought this part of the story was the more interesting one. On one hand we judge that he's a coward, of not being a man in owning up to the wrong that he did. On the other, we also realize his pain and his fear - it takes a lot to own up, especially when it involves lives being taken away, and from people we remotely know, no thanks to six degrees of separation.
Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), some might wonder if the coming together of the key characters are a tad convenient. We have father to father in a lawyer-client position, and one mother being the teacher of the other's child. Putting them together will lead to the inevitable, but it is this unravelling of the truth, that keeps us engaged to a gripping ending. Scenes that will make you seethe with rage, and probably whisper a silent curse, will be those where opportunities for confession are presented, but each time spurned. As the saying goes, a lie begets a larger lie, and it will snowball before you realize that the lie becomes to difficult to cover up.
Kudos go all round to the entire cast, save for Sorvino's role which is more cameo than supporting, mainly also because the tanglement of the complicated situation doesn't affect her character directly. Ruffalo put on a commendable performance as the man wrecked by guilt, and he fleshed his character with incredible nuances we usually associate when we are fearful, and guilty. You can feel pain through Joaquin's performance of the dad looking for justice, but finds himself being unsatisfied by the system of the law, and learns that sometimes the law and justice conflict each other, and offer the layman little or no protection, unlike those such as diplomats who have powers at their disposal. Jennifer Connelly of late plays nothing but pained wives/mothers/girlfriends (A Beautiful Mind, Hulk, Dark Water, Little Children), so there's nothing really new in her role her. But I would like to single out little Elle Fanning. While her role here is fairly simple, I thought she had exhibited much more screen presence and likability than her more illustrious sister Dakota, who has disappeared after her last outing in Charlotte's Web. Hopefully we get to see more of Elle taking on challenging kid/teen roles in time to come.
Reservation Road is recommended for being a powerful drama with excellent an excellent cast. Usually movies like these will have the mothers bawling and the picture being a weepy drama, but here, the movie shifts its focus to the love of fathers toward their sons, and that makes it well worth a watch.
The issues dealt with in this movie are real, and I can see many people who will be able to draw from their own experiences when watching this film. You may wonder sometimes if an accident happens, how long can you hold a person accountable for? Jennifer Connelly is again a mesmerizing presence on the silver screen. I watched tonight's screening of Reservation Road in Sudbury at our Cinefest festival expecting it to tug an emotional chord. I have to say, it was touching to see all the parents in the audience shedding a tear when the credits rolled. Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo made a somewhat formulaic script feel fresh and real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The human conscience is a powerful thing. Couple it with a life
altering mistake compounded by a momentary lapse in moral judgment and
a person can find themselves gripped by a lifetime of guilt. Such is
the case in the melancholy Reservation Road, which tells the story of
two men whose lives are shattered in the blink of an eye, and the guilt
and fear that grow from the festering wound it leaves.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Ethan Learner, a college professor who, while driving home with his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) and two young children Emma and Josh (Elle Fanning and Sean Curley), decide to make a stop at a gas station on Reservation Road. It's there that in one quick moment of tragedy Josh is accidentally hit and killed by an SUV driven by lawyer Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), frantically rushing his son home to his ex-wife after a Red Sox game.
Compounding the tragedy is Dwight's decision, rendered in a split second, to speed away from the scene, leaving Ethan with only a blurred fleeting glimpse and little else to aid the police with their investigation.
In the days that follow, the inner torture that both sides face threatens to destroy the very fabric of their souls.
Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and based on the critically acclaimed novel by John Burnham Schwartz (who co-wrote the screenplay with George), the story adds a darker layer to the human tragedy when Ethan unwittingly opts to hire Dwight as his lawyer to help ensure the killer is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, should he be captured.
Both Phoenix and Ruffalo turn in impressive performances as two men whose insides have been rendered asunder by the accident. Rufallo is particularly convincing in that even though his character has full access to the police investigation and knows that he will likely never be caught, he cannot escape the torment that what he did was wrong and must somehow be put right.
There's no easy answers to be found along Reservation Road, only choices; the choice to forgive or to hate, to admit one's guilt or bury it, to live a life of eternal torment, or move on however difficult that may be. Life's all about choices, and Reservation Road is a choice not to be passed up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Human suffering is an interesting subject because of its relative ease
in connecting with audiences and evoking emotions. Reservation Road
succeeds in emphasizing the catastrophic events of a hit and run
accident with astoundingly powerful performances from everyone in the
cast. Where it fails is in its documentary approach at portraying the
mental aftermath of a tragedy and the dearth of a plausibly
satisfactory conclusion. As Reservation Road reluctantly concedes early
on, when none of the characters win, neither does the audience.
Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix), his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) and their two young children Emma and Josh stop at a gas station on Reservation Road and have their lives unsuspectingly swept out from under them when Josh is killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver, Dwight Arno (played by Mark Ruffalo), in shock and afraid of losing his own son, who he struggles to see despite strict court orders from a divorce, attempts to hide his damaged SUV and any signs of the crime. But with unnervingly unforeseen coincidences, Dwight is hired as a lawyer to investigate the crime, while his wife tutors little Emma. Wrought with guilt and the fear of judgment by his impressionable young son, Dwight weighs his options as his world crumbles around him. Meanwhile, Ethan, overcome with grief, seeks vigilante justice due to the ineffectiveness of local law enforcement.
First and foremost, the acting is peerlessly superior to just about everything else so far this year. Undeniably Academy Award worthy performances pours forth from Jennifer Connelly, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo. Each of these characters suffer in different ways, but their portrayals are so accurately riveting that every time they burst into tears, so do we. Few performances are able to elicit such striking emotion from its audience, but Reservation Road's cast does so with ease. Of course, its tragedy-rich plot line is an easy target for sympathy.
Early on it is undeniably apparent that Dwight's flight from the hit-and-run accident was caused by a combination of fear and ignorance. But his continual suffering from his conscience eating away at him allows the audience to take pity, and we don't necessarily want him to die - especially because of his child. This leads to a problem for the audience: the antagonist is made to suffer, allowing for little satisfaction when his sins catch up to him. When every character loses, the audience often also loses out on a satisfactory resolution, in this case leading to a very abrupt finale. Reservation Road makes the mistake of creating very emotionally powerful pieces that overshadow the truncated conclusion and the film as a whole.
While the end itself pales in comparison to the panic-inducing build, credit is due to the nail-bitingly suspenseful and complexly brilliant first two acts. Dwight is unable to completely hide from Ethan's vengeful suspicions due to increasingly unexpected twists. Connelly's tear-jerking anxiety and Emma's innocently naïve queries to her mother add a dash of lemon juice to the wound of death-related heartbreak.
Reservation Road wastes no time careening right into the nerve-racking plot, and with powerhouse performances that won't be forgotten during awards season, it tells a woeful tale with countless layers of grief, anxiety and regret. While it may fail to thoroughly entertain with its "lose-lose" approach, it is a film that is not easily forgotten.
- Mike Massie
I knew nothing about the plot when I rented this film. With Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly and Mark Ruffalo starring in it, I figured it would be, at the very least, good, and it was. From the beginning scenes, a palpable tension is created; you just know something awful is about to happen despite two normal family outings being the subject matter. From then on, the plot reels out in an arc rife with too many coincidences, but the direction was able to pull it off without making me want to groan. There are some emotional scenes that would have played a little better had they been more subtle. The police officer and Mark Ruffalo were flawless. The children were outstanding. I'm not sure if it was Joaquin's character, the script, the direction or what, but he did not keep me riveted as he usually does; a bit over-acted perhaps. Jennifer delivered a couple of lines that didn't ring true--could have been an editing problem. The obsession of anger/justice seems a bit premature. It would have been better to see a progression. Despite my criticisms, I found enough mastery and depth of character to recommend it and give it a 7. I found myself worrying that the ending would ruin the film but it was faultless and convincing.
This film is about a grieving family dealing with the loss of their son
after a hit and run accident.
The plot is very strong, It shows the driver's guilt and shame, the unrelenting pursuit of the father trying to find the driver, and a grieving mother who wants to move on. The powerful performances are remarkably touching, especially of Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly. The added twist in the complicated relationship between Dwight and Ethan is engagingly presented, and adds more melancholy and tension to the whole film.
"Reservation Road" is a surprising gem. It is almost scary that a split second decision can have such profound impact on oneself and others. be prepared to be touched and saddened by "Reservation Road".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had my doubts about this movie when I saw the trailers, but with the
run of the mill movies releasing now a days, I thought this might be
comparatively good. And I was not wrong.
After viewing a baseball match with his son, lawyer Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), by mistake, drives over and kills the child of Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace Learner (Jennifer Connelly). Dwight is scared and drives away, and hides this fact from everyone. The police are in search of this hit and run offender, who no one except Ethan has seen (only as a glimpse in the night Dwight with a baseball cap). Ethan approaches a lawyer's firm and hires Dwight to fight the hit and run case. As the time passes, there is no evidence that the hit and run offender would ever be arrested, that makes Ethan desperate. As events unfold, when one day Ethan sees Dwight in the night (in a baseball cap) he remembers the uncanny resemblance of Dwight to the hit and run offender. In the end, Ethan plans to take the law in his own hand and kill Dwight what happens next? I won't tell here
The movie's plot is simple and an event that could happen to anyone. But the psychological trauma everyone undergoes through is portrayed brilliantly here. Not only of the family and parents of the lost child, but of the hit and run offender. Our heart goes out for Dwight's plight, who wants to confess his crime, but is so scared. Mark Ruffalo scores full marks for portraying the hidden emotions of trauma on his face and body language.
An excellent performance indeed. (I need to see this fellow's a few more movies to know whether this performance is a fluke?) Nothing to take away from Joaquin Phoenix, who is so sincere in his acting that one can not take away the despair from him. He is perfect. Jennifer Connelly, at times over-reacting (as the character demanded) is also good in her role.
The direction is fantastic, and keeps the audiences glued to the sit throughout. The events unfold keeping you guessing continuously, every turn of events brings Ethan closer to his suspect Dwight and that is great to watch. I would recommend the scene when Joaquin calls Mark at the scene of the crime, knowing Mark could be the suspect. The scene is terrific, especially the ending of the scene when the camera walks along with Joaquin's face, and Mark standing still behind. Fantastic! A very well directed movie by award winning Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, who has co-written the screenplay of this movie with John Burnham Schwartz who has written the novel by the same name.
A highly recommended movie.
(Stars 7.75 out of 10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(My Synopsis) Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix), his wife Grace (Jennifer
Connelly), their 10-year old son Josh (Sean Curley), and younger
daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) are going home after Josh's musical
recital. On their way home, Ethan stops at a gas station on Reservation
Road. What was a simple act of stopping at the gas station turns into a
life changing event. In a split second Josh is hit by an SUV and
killed. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is the driver of the SUV and for a
split second he stops, because it was an accident, then he panics and
runs. The state police are called, and they begin to investigate the
hit and run. As time goes by, both men are living in emotional turmoil
and agony over this event.
(My Comment) The movie is an emotional tug-of-war from start to finish. The father and mother are in pain with losing a son from the hit and run car accident. The person who ran the boy over with his SUV is in pain every day with seeing the accident in his head. This is one situation where a person really doesn't know how he would react until it occurs. Through your survival instincts would you run or would you do the right thing, and stop. The story is true to life as to how people react to a tragic event. Emotions are intense where everybody is blaming each other for the accident, just as in real life. Many people can only feel better about themselves if they can deflect blame by claiming an unfortunate or tragic event is someone else's fault. It is human nature, also, to play the "if only" role if only I hadn't stopped at that gas station. But that is what accidents are all about, and hindsight is 20-20. Ethan must make the choice to hate and get his revenge, or to forgive and move on with life; otherwise, he will lose the rest of his family. Dwight must choose to admit his guilt or bury it inside himself and live in torment. The movie makes you confront your inner self, which guides you to do the right thing in life's hard situations, or to choose to give into fear, pain, or shame, and take the superficial easy way out, and live with the inner self blame and sorrow that follows. If you see this movie, you will be emotionally drained by the time you leave. (Focus Features, Run time 1:42, Rated R)(6/10)
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