Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Reservation Road" is slow, flawed

My freelance review:
Author John Burnham Schwartz's critically-acclaimed novel Reservation Road has arrived on the big screen, with some big talent both in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, there are some major flaws with the outcome.

The film Reservation Road focuses on two fathers and their families. One is college professor Ethan Learner (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a family man with a wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) and a young son and daughter. The other is law associate Dwight Arno (played by Mark Ruffalo), a divorced man with partial custody of his young son.

Just a few minutes into the film, an accidental tragedy occurs at a roadside gas station late in the evening as Ethan's 10-year-old son is struck and instantly killed by Dwight's car. Although aware of what happened, a panicked Dwight speeds away, seeing a shellshocked Ethan holding his dead son through his rear-view mirror.

A police investigation follows, and the story alternates back and forth between the two fathers and how they deal with the tragedy.

And this is where the first major flaw of the film comes into play: The flaw of way too much coincidence.

Although the two fathers don't know each other, the flaw of way too much coincidence allows their paths to suddenly cross in more ways than one. I've not read the novel, but I've heard that writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) took some dramatic license here.

Another problem with the film is its very slow pace. While the novel was acclaimed for jumping back and forth gracefully among the two fathers and the dead boy's mother, the film doesn't quite succeed in the same way. There isn't that much story coming across.

Both Phoenix and Ruffalo turn in good performances, but Connelly is surprisingly weak as the boy's mother, delivering some of her lines with a degree of awkwardness.

Reservation Road is the kind of film to rent and play in the background while you paint or put a puzzle together. It's not the kind of film that deserves your full attention, unless you are bored and don't have much else to do.

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