Coincidence and plot strains help turn Reservation Road off the cinematic rails, as a tale of a fateful hit-and-run accident shot in Connecticut fails to engage. The setting is the fall of 2004 as the Red Sox went on to capture the World Series.
The praised novel is translated to the screen by Terry George (credited as a co-writer) who gave much power to the ramifications of genocide in Hotel Rwanda.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix (We Own The Night), Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Connelly, the film gets into its issues of grief and guilt after musical prodigy Josh (Sean Curley) son of academic Ethan (Phoenix) and lovely wife Grace (Connelly) is suddenly killed by an SUV whose driver doesn't stop. It happened while the family went to a gas station, the young celloist who just played at a park concert was close to the highway in opening a container of fireflies.
The other characters who figure into the contrivance are Dwight (Mark Ruffalo), a divorced dad who brought his son (Eddie Alderman) home from a Sox game, and does something awfully wrong in rushing him back to his ex, Ruth (Mira Sorvino).
Ethan becomes driven to find who was behind the wheel, visiting on-line chat rooms with parents who've faced similar devastation. In hiring a law firm to help more than the authorities seem to have, Dwight unintentionally becomes involved with the case and emotional underpinnings and suspicion manage their way to the forefront. The families will come together through their children as daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) is a pupil (as 10-year-old Josh) of music teacher Ruth.
Phoenix and Ruffalo, who've made strong impressions in recent years, both succumb to the melodramatic nature of the material. There are palpable moments between Ethan and Grace, yet Connelly appears too intermittently. And, the briefly effective scenes Ruffalo has are when Dwight and Alderman's Lucas try to keep their relationship alive through the Sox unlikely run. Thus, the central duo, in keeping up the obsession and avoiding incrimination, are unconvincing from the underwhelming storytelling and direction.
Also, there's not enough presence from the production end to make the story resonate as the suburban New England setting really doesn't stand out, and the music doesn't hit with a wistful sincerity. Reservation Road is inadvertently torturous and artificial instead of packing a domestic poignancy around tragedy, with mediocre results from its personal issues.