The human conscience is a powerful thing. Couple it with a life altering mistake compounded by a momentary lapse in moral judgment and a person can find themselves gripped by a lifetime of guilt. Such is the case in the melancholy Reservation Road, which tells the story of two men whose lives are shattered in the blink of an eye, and the guilt and fear that grow from the festering wound it leaves.
Phoenix stars as Ethan Learner, a college professor who, while driving home with his wife Grace (Connelly) and two young children Emma and Josh (Fanning and Curley), decide to make a stop at a gas station on Reservation Road. It’s there that in one quick moment of tragedy Josh is accidentally hit and killed by an SUV driven by lawyer Dwight Arno (Ruffalo), frantically rushing his son home to his ex-wife after a Boston Red Sox [baseball] game. Compounding the tragedy is Dwight’s decision, rendered in a split second, to speed away from the scene, leaving Ethan with only a blurred fleeting glimpse and little else to aid the police with their investigation. In the days that follow, the inner torture that both sides face threatens to destroy the very fabric of their souls.
Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and based on the critically acclaimed novel by John Burnham Schwartz, the story adds a darker layer to the human tragedy when Ethan unwittingly opts to hire Dwight as his lawyer to help ensure the killer is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, should he be captured. Both Phoenix and Ruffalo turn in impressive performances as two men whose insides have been rendered asunder by the accident. Rufallo is particularly convincing in that even though his character has full access to the police investigation and knows that he will likely never be caught, he cannot escape the torment that what he did was wrong and must somehow be put right. There’s no easy answers to be found along Reservation Road, only choices; the choice to forgive or to hate, to admit one’s guilt or bury it, to live a life of eternal torment, or move on however difficult that may be. Life’s all about choices, and Reservation Road is a choice not to be passed up.