Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Antoni Corone star in Terry George's "Reservation Road."

Macall Polay,


1 out of 4 stars

The setup: A hit-and-run entangles two New England families in a web of deceit and vengeance.

What works: The Connecticut scenery is quite lovely.

What doesn't: The plot relies on preposterous coincidences and the characters deliver theatrical-sounding monologues as if they'd spent their entire lives on the stage.

Great line: "MY SON IS DEAD! HE'S NOT COMING HOME TO ME!" Oh, wait, I thought you said "Loud line."

Clumsy 'Road' feels staged

  • Article by: Colin Covert
  • Star Tribune
  • October 25, 2007 - 3:12 PM

"Reservation Road" is a car wreck of a movie about an auto accident. It's designed as a psychological suspense film, but every character development and plot twist can be seen far in advance. It's a mystery with no guessing.

Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly play a New England academic and his wife; Mark Ruffalo is a divorced attorney who lives nearby. In the opening scene, all are defined by how utterly devoted they are to their kids. Phoenix and Connelly applaud and beam for their son's performance in a children's musical. Ruffalo bonds with his boy at a Red Sox game. Then they get into their cars and drive in parallel through the deepening night, and it's all too obvious that someone's role is going to end on Page 5 of the screenplay.

The hit-and-run that follows precipitates an eerily banal tale of vigilantism, emotional strain, vengeance and redemption. Part of the problem is that the world of the story is so small it seems to have fewer than a dozen characters in it. The police don't have enough evidence to go on, but you become impatient that they can't solve a crime in a dramatic universe with so few suspects.

The seeker of justice and the guilty party are brought together with clumsy irony as Phoenix hires a lawyer to handle his part in the accident, and -- yes, you guessed it -- Ruffalo takes the case. Their relationship becomes an obsessive cat-and-mouse game. Somebody buys a gun. Somebody videotapes a confession and hides it. Somebody discovers it. Each man deteriorates under the strain. The men spend half the film looking pooped while Connelly and Mira Sorvino, playing Ruffalo's ex, stand beside them, arms crossed and frowning. The usually capable performers struggle awkwardly with unspeakable soliloquies. "This feeling; my stomach a twisted rope, my head exploding, will it ever go away?" spouts Phoenix. You and me both, buddy, you and me both.

It all climaxes in a double meltdown at gunpoint with more weeping than a month's worth of soap operas. No one involved will insist that this movie be included in a retrospective of his or her career.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

Colin Covertrating: R For Language and Some Disturbing images. •

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