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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Reservation Road

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Despite the presence of a fine cast, compelling material and a promising director, Reservation Road is further proof that there's a certain amount of alchemy involved in the creation of a good movie. While Reservation Road isn't terrible, it is relentlessly mediocre which--considering the high level of talent involved--can only qualify it as a deep disappointment. The script hits a profoundly false note so early in the film that you spend the rest of the time disconnected from its reality--a killer in a movie that requires your emotional investment in order to succeed.

The film opens with competing narratives. Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly are a married couple attending their son's cello recital. On the other side of town, Mark Ruffalo and his son are cheering at a Red Sox game. Their paths eventually meet when Ruffalo accidentally strikes and kills Phoenix's son with his SUV, then speeds away. From there, the story becomes quickly familiar--Phoenix and Connelly grieve and drift apart while Ruffalo is consumed by guilt. Yes, the actors are good but these are situations we've seen to the point of cliche.

A series of spectacular, almost absurd coincidences are thrown in to further entangle Ruffalo and Phoenix, but they diminish rather than heighten the drama. Worse, they aren't really integral to the story except as plot gimmicks. Speaking of the plot, it's what I call a downhill runner. From the moment Phoenix's son is killed, there's a ponderous inevitability to the confrontation between Phoenix and Ruffalo. That climatic meeting features a turnabout from Ruffalo that is, like too much of this movie, false and unnecessary.

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It's all such a shame. Phoenix, Ruffalo and Connelly are such perfectly earnest actors that they give weight to Reservation Road that it never really earns. Terry George, who previously directed the fabulous Hotel Rwanda, doesn't seem to have a handle on what the story is that he's telling. Is it a revenge melodrama? Is it a character study about guilt and consequences? About how pain can destroy families? Unfortunately, it's all of these and none of these. Nothing is explored deeply enough to resonate. Nothing surprises.

Photo courtesy of Focus Features