Rating: B-/ I’ll begin my review by saying this; people who rent this movie probably know what they’re getting. The acting is terrific all around, but the movie itself is overwrought, filled with shrieking and heated accusations. It gained my sympathies and tugged on my heartstrings, but I feel like it did it kind of dishonestly, if that makes sense; instead of being extraordinarily well-written or featuring interesting characters it jack-hammered it’s way into my heart by presenting me with lots and lots of showy displays of grief. The excellent actors are compensating for the fact that there isn’t much below the surface here.
The death of a child is a tricky subject. Obviously, the concept of losing a child preys on the worst fears of parents and is guaranteed to pull on audience heart strings. In Reservation Road, a hit-and-run driver (Mark Ruffalo) strikes and kills a ten-year-old boy (Sean Curley) with his SUV, leaving the lives of the boy’s parents (Jennifer Connelly, Joaquin Pheonix) and sister (Elle Fanning) in turmoil. The dead kid’s dad, Ethan, understandably wants revenge, but only forgiveness will get his life on the right track. I have got to say, Jennifer Connelly is wonderful in this movie. She is all too convincing as a woman who has just lost her child.
But there’s nothing that stands out about the script, as uniformly competent as it might be. Unlike a similar interlocking stories-and-relationship driven drama Little Children, the characters aren’t interesting in their own right. They are memorable only for the tragedy they have suffered. The movie tries to make us feel bad for Dwight, the hit-and-run driver. He is a recently divorced dad trying to get his life back on track, and struggling with a bitchy, disapproving ex (Mira Sorvino) and her passive-aggressive new hubby (Gary Kohn) (These kind of characters and situations have become laughably cliche lately, but whatever.)
But I can’t imagine even hitting a dog with my car, let alone a ten-year-old boy, and not fessing up to it, so I found it hard to sympathize with Dwight when he continually refused to admit to killing the child. And then when he goes to confess, the police totally ignore his pleas for them to take the time to speak with him and are basically uncooperative pains in the ass. I don’t know if it annoyed me more that it was a half-assed plot device or that they portrayed every single cop as being totally incapable of doing their job.
Other than that, the Reservation Road is not a totally terrible movie, worth watching for the tremendous acting. It’s probably not a movie you will remember in ten years. It’s a sad film, there’s a lot of yelling and crying about whose shoulders the responsibility for the boy’s death falls on. It’s an overbaked, sometimes painfully generic drama, but I still found myself cracking emotionally while watching it (basically every time Jennifer Connelly’s character was crying about her dead son, I’d tear up too.)
Overall, this is not filmmaker Terry George’s best movie, not by a long shot (Some Mother’s Son and Hotel Rwanda are superior in every way,) but it’s also very watchable and the cast is phenomenal. Jennifer Connelly has come along way since being that annoying kid in Labyrinth, and fans of her work need to see this movie, it rates among her best performances. It’s really her powerful acting that propels this movie beyond being ho-hem and perfectly missable to being a film you might just want to spend an hour and a half of your time on.
Whether you like tearjerkers will also factor majorly in how you perceive this movie. It might be good for a good cathartic cry, but you have to have considerable tolerance for having your emotions jerked around a lot. Reservation Road is something of an anomaly, an extremely well-acted movie without much to say, a film that is proverbially all dressed up with nowhere to go. You probably already know if you’re going to like this kind of thing or not, so I won’t avidly recommend it or pan it without knowing who you are and what kind of movies you like. The concept of the complexities of revenge has been done better elsewhere, and if it’s gory payback you want, you’d be better off watching Dead Man’s Shoes or something like that. Go ahead and watch this for the acting, but don’t expect to be blown away by the heavy-handed and somewhat familiar plot.