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Case Number 13380

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Reservation Road

Universal // 2007 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // April 8th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Mike Rubino's reservations about this movie were quickly paved over to make a super highway.

The Charge

To find the truth, you have to find who's hiding it.

Opening Statement

The director of Hotel Rwanda presents a powerful tale of anger, revenge, and sadness; however, this strongly acted story filled to the brim with talent and high production values spins its wheels before reaching a subdued denouement.

Facts of the Case

Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line) and his family are returning home from his son Josh's cello recital. While pausing at a local rest stop, their evening turns to tragedy when Josh is struck by a careening SUV piloted by Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac). Dwight speeds off into the night, leaving Ethan and his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly, Blood Diamond) to deal with their murdered child.

What follows is a tale of grief and anger as each character struggles to deal with the events following the horrific hit-and-run murder: Ethan becomes obsessed with finding the killer, Grace tries to move on reverently, and Dwight struggles with his own broken family and the guilt he's carrying with him. Things become even more complicated when Ethan turns to Dwight, who is a lawyer, for help finding the driver.

The Evidence

Director Terry George and writer John Burnham Schwartz (who wrote both the screenplay and the original novel) have crafted a realistic and emotionally jarring film about the death of a child. Through the course of an hour and 40-some minutes, the viewer rides along on the shoulders of Ethan Learner as he becomes obsessed with revenge and closure. And while the emotional impact of these events, coupled with an all-star cast of amazing actors, is certainly affecting, the story arc is rather flat.

Reservation Road is a slow, plodding movie that takes pride in showing the details of depression and anger. Throughout the movie, the characters will cry, yell, log on to chat rooms, and do a number of other things associated with grief. And while Terry George may have strived for complete realism, that doesn't necessarily make for a good movie. The second act drags on forever, and after a while becomes a repetitive mess where characters recover and relapse into angst. While the idea of Ethan hiring Dwight as his lawyer, ignorant to the fact that Dwight killed his son, makes for some great tension, the climactic standoff comes across muted and soft. The film's ultimate message is that of forgiveness, but unfortunately it doesn't come across as well as it should. Reservation Road is billed as a suspense/thriller, but I can't really tell you at what point the movie deserves those adjectives.

This film may have some pacing and plot issues, but it certainly isn't lacking in terms of acting. Each of the major players brings the level of intensity needed to pull off a film like this. Joaquin Phoenix is incredible as the emotionally distraught, revenge-filled Ethan. Phoenix evolves throughout the film, starting shocked, shifting into desperate, and ending on murderous, all the while coming off as genuine. Jennifer Connelly, who plays his wife Grace, is desolate and grief-stricken as she blames herself for her son's death. On the other side of the spectrum is Mark Ruffalo, who follows up his incredible role in Zodiac with a layered, yet restrained, take on guilt. His ex-wife is played by Mira Sorvino, who plays her best role since Mighty Aphrodite. Of course, the skills of these adults are only magnified by the wonderful acting by all of the children throughout the movie. Each exudes the kind of innocence and love that makes the drama surrounding one of their deaths all the more believable.

Reservation Road looks good on this standard def. transfer, especially since much of the movie is cast in dark shadows. The Dolby Digital surround does an admirable job, although the movie doesn't offer anything too fancy in terms of audio pizzazz. Accompanying this disc is a nice set of deleted scenes, which actually have some substance to them, and a fairly insightful making-of documentary. Also on the disc, though hardly a "special feature," is an episode of Friday Night Lights. I don't know why.

Closing Statement

Reservation Road tells an average, often slow, story about family grief and revenge paired with outstanding actors. At its very core, the movie isn't that great; however, if you are looking for some intense dramatic acting, or a decent morality play, then it's worth a rental.

The Verdict

Guilty of hitting us with drama and running from an interesting plot.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 95
Extras: 80
Acting: 100
Story: 75
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Suspense

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• "Looking Back on Reservation Road"


• IMDb

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