The sum of this psychological thriller about two fathers shattered by a hit-and-run accident is considerably greater than the total of its impressive parts, which include deeply committed performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo, novelist John Burnham Schwartz's adaptation of his own acclaimed novel, and restrained direction by HOTEL RWANDA's Terry George.
Though the fathers take center stage, Schwartz's novel is actually a tale of two families, both residents of an upscale Connecticut suburb: College professor Ethan Learner (Phoenix), his wife, Grace (Jennifer Connelly), and their two beautiful, talented children, 10-year-old Josh and younger sister Emma (Elle Fanning), and divorced lawyer Dwight Arno (Ruffalo) and his son, Lucas (Eddie Alderson), who lives with Dwight's volatile ex-wife, Ruth (Mira Sorvino), and her new husband (Gary Kohn). Their lives collide on the portentously named Reservation Road (can you say "appointment with destiny"?), in front of a small gas station on a lazy summer night. The Learners are happily driving home from a student concert, Arno is bringing Lucas home from Fenway Park and dreading the inevitable fight with Ruth, who neither understands the depth of their father-son Red Sox bond nor appreciates the fact that when a game runs late, it's not because Dwight is unreliable, inconsiderate and disrespectful. Dwight is distracted, Ethan doesn't realize Josh has wandered dangerously close to the side of the road and in an instant, Josh is dead; after a moment's hesitation, Dwight makes the fateful decision to speed off into the darkness.
Dwight is simultaneously consumed by guilt and terrified at the thought of losing his son's respect, while Ethan is increasingly mired in bitter thoughts of vengeance, even as Grace pulls herself together for Emma's sake and begins picking up the pieces of her life. But it's hard to watch two fine actors working themselves into a lather for so little reward — manifest emotional turmoil notwithstanding, the way their dovetailing emotional crises play out is aridly schematic. And while the families are neighbors, so it's not implausible that their paths would cross, the pileup of awful coincidences is painfully artificial and the inevitable climax is both formulaic and takes far too long to arrive. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh