A review of “Reservation Road” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

 

 

          Somber and introspective, “Road” is a safe and predictable platform for a pair of Hollywood heavyweights.

          Fate shows off its bleak side when two men’s futures collide in unforeseen tragedy. Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young family are en route from a summer concert when they pull over at a Reservation Road rest stop to use the facilities. Ethan’s son darts to the side of the road at the very moment that Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) and his own youngster come speeding around the bend on their way home from a ball game.

          The impact is sudden and unexpected. In a split second of sheer panic Arno, fully aware that he has struck a child, speeds away from the scene of the crime.

          Leaving ruin in his wake. Learner and his devastated wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) can’t put their grief and confusion behind them, especially when local law enforcement appears to be losing interest in their baffling hit-and-run.

          Desperate for closure and a swift (cruel?) justice, Learner as vigilante hires a lawyer to continue the investigation. The film’s second morbid twist (no spoilers!) heaps coincidence upon coincidence.

          If there’s any pleasure to be wrung from the narrative’s tragic circumstances it’s the opportunity to watch Phoenix and Ruffalo dig deep into reserves of guilt and pain to bring their tormented characters to life. How far to go to find peace of mind, exact revenge or do the right thing?

          All told “Road” should be compelling theater, deconstructing psychology rich concepts of loss and consequence. But as directed by Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”) it’s surprisingly one dimensional, a semi-absorbing but ultimately tiresome waiting game with protagonists -- one angry, one scared -- circling each other with the wariness of hunter and prey.

          Elle Fanning as Learner’s daughter Emma proves once and for all that there are authentic thesp genes in the Fanning (think Dakota) household but bottom line this one for the “Road”.