Conflicts Of Interests And Intersections In A Connecticut Town
The PopcornReel.com Movie Review: "Reservation Road"
By Omar P.L. Moore/October 20, 2007
Mark Ruffalo as Dwight Arno and Jacquin Phoenix as Ethan Learner in Terry
George's intensely gripping "Reservation Road", which opened across the U.S. and
Canada yesterday. (Photos: Macall Polay/Focus Features)
John Burnham Schwartz and Terry George adapt Mr. Schwartz' novel
"Reservation Road" into a tense motion picture filled with superb all-around
acting and directed with careful deliberation by Mr. George. Although the
film isn't spectacular, without its performances it would barely register on the
Richter scale. But with Mark Ruffalo as Dwight, the attorney of Ethan (Jacquin
Phoenix), whose son he has killed in a nighttime hit-and-run accident in a quiet
Connecticut town, there is a volcanic eruption of thespian craft, which
stretches beyond Oscar-winners Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino, both nicely
cast in important roles as the male combatants' significant (or formerly
significant) others, making the film a lot stronger than it probably has any
right to be.
The film "Reservation Road" skillfully develops the Shakespearean and Greek
tragedy themes. If ever the declaration in the Bard of Avon's King Lear
about killing all the lawyers were adhered to, one would expect that Ethan
Learner would be itching to read the Lear Cliff notes. All however, is not
so cut and dried in this complex drama, and while audiences hunger for
retribution, the film's tale plays out more realistically in some ways than many
viewers might appreciate. Set in September and October of 2004, one
family, the Learners -- Ethan, Grace (Connelly) and daughter Emma (Elle Fanning)
are watching son Josh (Sean Curley) at his cello recital, as the Arnos -- Dwight
and son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) are at Fenway Park watching their beloved Boston
Red Sox in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Without having read Mr. Schwartz's book -- which apparently takes place in one
of the main character's heads, and which makes Mr. Ruffalo's Dwight Arno
character far more roguish than he is on the big screen -- this reviewer takes
note that Mr. George employs some sublime camera work that makes "Reservation
Road" so thrilling and invigorating to appreciate. "Road" is the kind of
film where the artistry (especially John Lindley's impressive cinematography,
and the acting) supersedes the overall narrative to the point where you end up
admiring the motion picture overall. The parts here are greater than the
sum -- but the sum isn't bad at all. There is a specific instance where
Lindley's lenses brilliantly capture an encounter between Mr. Phoenix and Mr.
Ruffalo. The beautiful camerawork as our point of view swivels from one
actor's perspective to the other's in this particular moment between the two
protagonists is the shrewdest camera move during any film in 2007. It's a
move which reminds you why you love and admire film in general and Mr. George's
film in particular, and from a technical standpoint the movement of the camera
in "Reservation Road" is second to none.
Mr. Ruffalo is likely to be an Oscar nominee for his performance as Dwight, a
failed father trying to redeem himself in his son's (and ex-wife's) eyes.
As a lawyer, Dwight has nowhere to go but up, as he has lied his last lie and
played his last card where the straight and narrow are concerned. Immersed
in a legacy of family abuse and screaming parents, Dwight hopes that as a parent
he can inculcate a shred of goodness and honesty in his own son Lucas, and his
intentions will be severely challenged before the film is over. Mr.
Ruffalo wrestles with Dwight's guilt ever so effectively. You can
literally see and feel his skin crawling, and you will feel yours do the same as
you watch him. Dwight's about to burst, but intervention denies him the
chance for contrition.
Elle Fanning (left) as Emma, with Mira Sorvino (center) as Ruth, and Jennifer
Connelly as Grace, in Terry George's "Reservation Road".
Meanwhile, Ethan desperately attempts something the police seem
laconic about: finding the man who has abruptly and recklessly ended the life of
his dear son. Mr. Phoenix gives Ethan a fierce visceral power, full of
volatility and nervous disposition, making his grief and anger more palpable.
Both fathers have crosses to bear, but a right turn at a fork in the road
doesn't necessarily make right, even if righteous anger and retribution fuel all
of the impulses that our primal instincts inform us to act upon.
"Reservation Road" does something not unlike "Gone Baby Gone" (also released
yesterday) where its ending is concerned. "Baby" is stronger in its
narrative, but "Road", a slightly smaller film, retains a tighter focus on its
The screenplay for such a somber story contains one or two telling lines that
may ring of humor in retrospect. Early on when Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Phoenix
first meet, Mr. Ruffalo utters the words, "I'm sorry about that" -- as if he is
admitting guilt as he learns of the tragic news befalling Ethan's son. But
for the lawyers in the audience (as well as every layperson), it's (supposedly)
the American maxim "innocent until proven guilty" that prevails to this moment
in the film. (There is a camera shot during this initial meeting that
feels similar to the one in Adrian Lyne's "Fatal Attraction", where Glenn Close
shows up at Michael Douglas and Anne Archer's apartment and is unbeknownst
introduced by Ms. Archer to her partner in infidelity.) Another line is
later spoken by Mr. Phoenix as he says to Mr. Ruffalo, "why wouldn't you stop?"
It is difficult to sprinkle a film about loss and revenge with humor, especially
a film like this one, because the director treats the subject with the sincerity
that it certainly merits. Mr. George has always taken on the heavier
material for celluloid, whether it is "Some Mother's Son", "In The Name Of The
Father", which he adapted with its director Jim Sheridan, or "Hotel Rwanda".
It may be argued that some of the situations that occur in "Road" are too
convenient, but life is full of stranger-than-fiction scenarios, so why too
can't a medium where suspension of disbelief applies, especially when the story
is set in tightly-knit suburbia, also be allowed to stand credibly?
Mr. George's films typically confront conscience and crises of conscience, with
male characters trying to clear their family's name or avenge the family mantle,
and here it's no different. Jennifer Connelly gives a performance that is
stronger than the one which she won Oscar for in 2002 ("A Beautiful Mind") as
Grace, the wife who barely co-exists against her husband's Ethan's rage and
desperation, and it is a welcome pleasure to see Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino in a
substantial role as Ruth Weldon, the ex-wife of Dwight. Ms. Sorvino's Ruth
is alluring and possesses a strength and decisiveness that one would imagine
Dwight would have been exposed by, and thus understand how their marriage may
have been ended. "Reservation Road" has its lags, but it is always tense,
and the acting by Antoni Corone as Sergeant Burke, the earnestly sympathetic
investigating case officer is a nice touch to the drama that Mr. George has
crafted. Mr. Corone's acting also deserves recognition come awards season.
"Reservation Road" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America
for language and some disturbing images. The film's duration is one hour
and 42 minutes.
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