Reservation Road
I’m sorry Elle, they just don’t cast you for happy films.

Theatrical Release Date: 10/19/2007
Director: Terry George
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly, Sean Curley, Elle Fanning, Mira Sorvino

On the surface, “Reservation Road” is one of those “look at me” Oscar films where a star-studded cast tackles a challenging subject and through all the torment and suffering, audiences are meant to come out thinking, “Wow, those actors are deep”.

In this guilt-centric drama, Mark Ruffalo and Mira Sorvino play a separated couple and share custody of their son (Sean Curley). Coming home from a father-son bonding at a baseball game, Ruffalo accidentally kills a child in a hit and run because the young boy had strayed too close to the road and Ruffalo was distracted. As fate and the script would have it, that little boy is the son of Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly (and the poor little girl playing the sister is of course a Fanning, this time it’s Elle).

The majority of the film follows Ruffalo as his conscience and desire to stay out of jail fight for supremacy. Sadly, it’s not that Ruffalo doesn’t play his part well – in fact, all of the actors do a good job – but it’s quite evident how things will develop moments after the car accident and it’s a bit tedious getting there.

There’s an attempt to develop the fractured relationship of Ruffalo and Sorvino but it feels forced and one-dimensional, more of a plot device or desire to even up the couples screen time in the film. Speaking of which, Phoenix and Connelly are good and sustain the pain that the death of their son creates. However, the basis for their marriage is never set up and their lack of chemistry doesn’t help matters. This made it far less compelling to watch their relationship hit a few bumps along the way.

The kids in the film aren’t asked to do much, which is a shame because they did well with the little bits they were given. Their scenes do help provide a more tangible emotional center, contrasting with the somber adults around them. However, like Sorvino’s entire character, their inclusion also seem forced. Perhaps the disconnect comes from trying to retain too many elements of the novel (written by co-screenwriter John Burnham Schwartz). There are a lot of issues on display and it’s apparently too difficult to resolve all of them adequately in the film’s 102 minute running time.

Boiling it all down, I don’t mean to be so negative. This is a good film, with good performances … it just isn’t that compelling. I’m giving “Reservation Road” a 3 out of 5. It you’re a fan of the actors, this is worth a rent or catching on TV but if you fail to do either, I wouldn’t really say you’re missing anything.