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Reservation Road

2008-11-04 10:02
What it's about:

Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace Learner (Jennifer Connelly) are a nice, normal middle class couple with two young, rosy-cheeked children. Their perfect little world is shattered when their son Josh (Sean Curley) is killed in a hit and run accident. When the family's grief becomes insurmountable and the police investigation into the accident falls apart, Ethan undertakes his own mission to find the person responsible, and makes a shocking find.

What we thought:

Don't judge this film by its synopsis. It's not a whodunnit thriller. Instead, it's a careful, meditative study of human nature when faced with impossible choices and unimaginable suffering.

The Learners are the textbook American family – middle-class, attractive, intelligent and inoffensive. It's as if the world was created for their pleasure. So it makes sense then that this picture of perfection is made to suffer probably the most devastating loss imaginable, that of a child. Ethan Learner witnesses his son being mowed down by an SUV on Reservation Road, and the horror is compounded when the motorist abandons the scene of the accident. When the police are unable to make any progress in their investigation, Ethan becomes consumed with finding the man responsible.

That man is Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), a divorced father who, in a panic over his crime and the prospect of losing visitation rights with his son as a result, makes the rash decision to drive off. He then hides all evidence of his involvement in the accident, frantically covering his tracks with the mindlessness and desperation of a man who doesn't really know what he's doing. In a cruel twist of fate, Dwight is appointed as the Learners' lawyer after Ethan's mission of justice takes him to the law firm Dwight works at.

It says plenty about Ruffalo's ability as an actor when he is able to play the bad guy with such vulnerability that the audience never vilifies him for the terrible thing he has done. He is just an ordinary guy trying to be the best example for his son. But it's a task that proves increasingly difficult. Will he own up to his mistake, or will he choose to live as a coward?

Jennifer Connelly plays the devastated mother Grace, who blames herself for the accident and feels her husband slipping away as he continues his vengeful crusade. The combination of a world-class cast and award-winning director in Terry George makes for a powerful display of talent, but this movie is a downer of note. There's no respite from the overwhelming grief and misery that permeates every frame.

- Shaheema Barodien

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A young family suffers the worst tragedy imaginable when their 10-year-old son is killed in a hit and run accident. The man responsible for the accident grapples with his conscience when the family seeks his legal help.

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