Idol Chatter

reservationroadsm.gifReservation Road,” which opens this Friday, has nothing to do with the forthcoming “Revolutionary Road,” though both are adapted from books about families in crisis. The former, directed by “Hotel Rwanda”‘s Terry George and based on John Burnham Schwartz’s excellent novel of the same name, is set in Stamford, Connecticut, where boats drift across the harbor, college campuses are surrounded by manicured green lawns, and children play the cello for their proud, doting parents. This vision of small town Americana is immediately smashed when ten-year-old Josh Learner (Sean Curley) is fatally hit by a car and the driver speeds away.
Ethan and Grace Learner, Josh’s well-to-do parents, are played with powerful honesty by Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly. The accidental killer, a struggling lawyer named Dwight Arno, is played by Mark Ruffalo, who etches a tense, believable portrait of guilt tempered by self-loathing. But George, who basically tore my heart out with his superb screen vision of the holocaust in Rwanda, speeds through the grief-drenched proceedings to get to the crux of the story, a thriller in which victim tracks killer and killer warbles miserably, attempting make amends while retaining partial custody of his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson).
The sense of time in this movie is off. The cat-and-mouse game Ethan and Dwight play — supposedly heightened when Ethan hires Dwight as his attorney — is more procedural than thrilling. And the troubled relationship between Dwight and his ex-wife (an underused Mira Sorvino) isn’t fleshed out enough for us to understand why Dwight rushed Lucas home from a Red Sox game on the fateful night when Josh was killed.

There’s also a lack of character development that glazes over what could have played as a devastating loss: as penned by Schwartz, Josh is a flesh-and-blood boy. In the movie he’s a cute cartoon of a kid (curly hair, big grin) and then he’s dead, leaving the town cops at a standstill and Ethan, furious, pounding at the precinct door, because a month has gone by since his son’s death and no one seems to care.
George does a commendable job of examining the ways in which a family — a comfortable, affluent family unaccustomed to tragedy — deals with the unimaginable. Will the Learners survive their son’s death as a unit, or end up as splintered as the Arnos? While Grace refocuses on raising their young daughter (Elle Fanning), Ethan retreats to his dark study, joins an internet support group for parents who’ve lost children to drunk drivers, and drives through town snapping pictures of cars he thinks might have hit Josh.
And then there’s Dwight, who spends the movie inching further away from the stable life he’s trying to recreate, post-divorce. He almost turns himself in. He videotapes a shaky confession. He begs Sorvino’s character for a week with Lucas, and just as he gets what he wants, a gun-waving Ethan shows up on his doorstep, raising all sorts of questions about redemption and forgiveness that the movie hints at but never answers. Stories about righteous citizens taking the law into their own hands aren’t exactly new, but what’s worthwhile about this one is that the perpetrator himself is a complex character so desperate to maintain ties with his own son that he can’t claim responsibility for the death of someone else’s.
Written by Jenny Halper, posted by Idol Chatter

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