Film review: Reservation Road

2008-08-25 00:00

HOTEL Rwanda director Terry George, known for tackling broad political issues in his to-the-point films, takes on the more personal but equally complex subject of hit-and-run accidents in Reservation Road.

Among his previous films, George has directed some excellent commentaries on the troubles of his native Belfast, including 1997's The Boxer and Some Mother's Son.

He also wrote and directed Hotel Rwanda and as a writer adapted Gerry Conlon's autobiography for In the Name of the Father.

In Reservation Road, George has taken on a subject far more personal than the conflict in Ireland and the genocide in Rwanda, though no less disturbing. His dissection of a hit-and-run accident, and the consequences it has for both the family of the victim and the guilty party, can be as uncomfortable to watch as his other films have been.

Strong portrayals of the mother of the 10-year-old victim by Jennifer Connelly, the husband by Joaquin Phoenix and the guilty party, Dwight Arno (by Mark Ruffalo), capture the emotion on the side of the family, and the guilt-ridden trauma of Arno.

Phoenix impresses in his depiction of the sheer rage that can be felt by a parent in this instance. A child's life has been taken, and a grief-stricken parent needs someone to blame. Over-riding your emotions with anger seems to be a misguided way to avoid confronting the seemingly unbearable grief.

Ruffalo, too, gets to grips with his character well. He has the right sort of likeableness for the viewer not to want Arno, a divorced parent and suitably dysfunctional but well-intentioned father, to not go to jail. Arno's motives for leaving the crash are almost understandable Ñ he does not want to lose his son by going to prison.

On the one hand Arno is clearly enjoying each moment spent with his son as if it were their last. On the other, in his moments alone, he cannot escape the haunting spectre of what he has done, and Ruffalo captures the internal unravelling of the character.

His situation is made worse when the justice-obsessed father of the victim unknowingly approaches Arno to represent the family as a lawyer in the case, to ensure the police investigation is properly conducted.

At one stage Arno attempts to turn himself in, but is informed by the police Ñ who assume he is there in his capacity as the family's lawyer Ñ that the case has gone cold, and Arno changes his mind.

The portrayal of the post-traumatic relationship of Phoenix and Connelly has echoes of a similar subject in 2001's In the Bedroom, though does not quite reach the level of subtlety of Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek in that film.

Overall, this exploration of a complex subject that is not dealt with often enough raises some interesting questions, and has enough substance to satisfy the tastes of those with an inquiring mind. ****

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