' Cinema Romantico: Reservation Road

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reservation Road

(Note: There will be spoilers involved in this review. Consider this your warning but also consider that I don't recommend this movie.)

I used to have a Roger Ebert quote posted at the heading of this blog which read: "Sometimes I think critics review the movie they would have preferred rather than the movie the director made." I loved that quote, and agreed with it. And today I'm going to totally go against it and so in advance I apologize to my readers, myself and the esteemed Mr. Ebert. But I have no choice. I would have preferred "Reservation Road" go a different way. And it's because I've seen this movie and I'm tired of seeing it. It's based on a novel of the same name and perhaps the book (I haven't read it) portrays the story in a very moving, very insightful way, but as a frequenter of the cineplex I've had it with these storylines.

The story starts with Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) rushing his son Sam home from a Boston Red Sox game. He is rushing, you see, as he is in grave danger of violating the custody agreement with his ex-wife (Mira Sorvino). Meanwhile Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix), Grace (Jennifer Connelly), and their two children pull over at a gas station on the same road. They are returning from their son's concert. Their son wanders onto the road just as Dwight speeds by and has to swerve to avoid an oncoming car. Ethan and Grace's son is hit and dies instantly. Dwight drives away. He does so because he fears losing his own son because of an inevitable trip to prison. Meanwhile Ethan and Grace have to not only deal with the pain of their son's death but from a police force that seems to have no leads on the hit and run and seems to be losing interest in the case. Therefore Ethan determines to take matters into his own hands.

The problem can be summed up this way: "Reservation Road" didn't need a gun. Yes, a gun shows up in this movie, and you can probably figure out why, and all I could think was, "A gun? Really? Did we have to go there?" This is to say these types of movies are obsessed with sensationalizing everything. Why not come at this from a serious angle? The movie makes a point of telling us how rarely hit and run suspects are caught. If so, why not a movie where Ethan and Grace have to come to grips with this fact? Why not a movie where Dwight truly has to wrestle with the decision of turning himself in and doing so with more than telling your family, "I have to go away for a little while." Is that particular line required for these sorts of movies?

Instead Ethan decides he needs an attorney to assist him in his own investigation and, lo and behold, who should he enlist as attorney but (gasp!) Dwight himself? I mean, seriously? Is that the best you've got? (Again, perhaps the book made this seem authentic but in the film you can pretty much hear the mechanics of the plot whirring as this encounter takes place.) And do we really need to see Phoenix sleuthing around in a house and happening upon a bone-chilling clue? The woman sitting behind me was laughing out loud at the sleuthing scene and I nearly turned around to thank her for also realizing the inanity of what we were enduring.

None of this is meant to criticize the performances of Phoenix or Ruffalo who are both probably better than the material deserves. And then there's poor Jennifer Connelly, yet again stuck with an underwritten role that she elevates. (Give this woman an underwritten role and she sells it. Give her a well-written role and, hey, she just might win an Oscar.)

The most convincing thing in the entire movie is the fact that a Boston Red Sox fan wouldn't want to turn himself in for murder until AFTER a World Series involving the Red Sox is over. That I can believe. And if that's the most convincing moment, well, that adds up to a situation where I don't want to talk about the movie the director made because that movie just depresses me.

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