Reservation Road (2007)


Reservation Road
Dir. Terry George
Premiered at Toronto September 13, 2007

Not to be confused with Revolutionary Road, one of two awards-bait films from 2008 starring Kate Winslet (that’s the one where she isn’t an illiterate Nazi).

On a summer’s day in Connecticut, Ethan and Grace Learner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) attend their son Josh’s (Sean Curley) music recital. The same day, divorced lawyer Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) takes his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) to a Red Sox game. Distracted on the road back, Dwight swerves off the road, hitting and killing young Josh before driving off and pretending nothing happened.

Heartbroken, the Learners give the police what little information they can gather about Dwight’s car, but when Ethan is (understandably but unreasonably) disappointed with the case’s progress, he hires a lawyer: Dwight. While Dwight wrestles with his responsibility for the crime, Ethan indulges his grief, turning his desire for justice into a lust for revenge.

As movies that exist solely to win awards go, Reservation Road isn’t totally awful. It’s certainly better than In the Valley of Elah, though they share certain similarities– both films deal with post-traumatic stress, even if this film doesn’t quite realize it. Although this is the far better-looking film (kudos to cinematographer John Lindley) and has a much better grasp of its subject matter, the bulk of it consists of various speeches about family, violence, responsibility, and the like. Ethan’s personal investigation of hit-and-run statistics and testimonials feels like a long, dull public service announcement, and the film’s climax is instigated by a preposterous leap of logic not dissimilar to the big reveal in the 2002 Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads.

The film has been categorized as a suspenseful thriller, which it isn’t. Contemporary reviews for the film used terms like “maudlin,” “melodramatic,” “moralistic,” and compared it to grief counseling or an after-school special, and I agree completely. Reservation Road is predictable, cloying, and serves only to provide cliché awards reel moments for its actors (who are undoubtedly talented, and do their best with what they’re given) rather than keep the interest of paying audiences. The best that can be said is that it’s not ambitious or harmful enough to have affected the careers of the people involved.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Because it wouldn’t be a transparent enough Oscar Bait film without a tacked-on stab at relevance, a short scene depicting Ethan’s unspecified job (allegedly as a professor, but somehow involved in television news) consists of a man of unspecified nationality (the dialogue suggests he’s Iranian, but it’s never clear, and we never see him again) complaining about American imperialism and alleging that US media is complicit in it.

However, in another brief scene, Dwight watches a Red Sox game on TV while the announcer proclaims that this will be the year the Sox “break the curse!” This now makes three Oscar Bait films from 2007 that are set in 2004 for no reason except that it happened to be the year the script was written, and no updates were ever made for the production. Hell, the Red Sox were the top team in the American League in 2007 and went on to win the World Series, so it would’ve been an easy fix!

How Did It Do?
Reservation Road made virtually no impact; casually dismissed by critics for its contrivances and leering sentimentality– good performances can’t overcome a bad script– earning a 37% rating on RottenTomatoes and grossing just $1.8 million, most of that from outside the US.

Next Time: Lars and the Real Girl


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