Reservation Road opens with every parent’s nightmare. At a rest stop, while the mom and dad gas up the car, little Josh wanders away and is killed by a hit-and-run-driver along a rural Connecticut road. What follows is meant to be an examination of grief and the repercussions of loss, but is in fact, little more than a revenge drama tarted-up with an a-list cast
Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly play Ethan and Grace, parents of the young boy. Behind the wheel of the deadly vehicle is Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer and father of Lucas, who he lost in a custody battle with his ex-wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino) and now only sees on the weekends.
Try as they might to cope with the death of their son, Ethan and Grace fray at the edges. Grace tries to move on, but Ethan, consumed with thoughts of revenge and retribution becomes obsessed with finding his son’s killer in lieu of finding inner peace. In the kind of twist that only happens in Hollywood movies Ethan hires Dwight to help him with his case.
A guilt-ridden Dwight—a recovering something—rage-a-holic, alcoholic—struggles with doing the right thing and turning himself in, but he knows that as soon as he speaks to the police he will likely never see his son again.
Reservation Road can boast good performances all round. Phoenix and Ruffalo hand in the kind of work that has made them both award magnets in the last few years, but for my money it is the quiet portrayal of a grieving mother from Jennifer Connelly that wins the movie. As Grace she seems to actually experience the steps of grief and work through her pain, and in doing so becomes a much more rounded character than Ethan, who simply retreats into a miasma of hate and revenge.
Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz Reservation Road is a serious minded, glum film for adults—a la 21 Grams or In the Bedroom—which may pick up a couple of nominations for acting, but despite its heartrending subject, falls flat. Perhaps a different director could have tightened up the pacing and really developed an emotional connection with the audience, but as it is this story of loss is missing something.