Reservation Road (2007)
Reservation Road is a human drama so powerful, resonant and well-acted that its strengths completely overshadow the somewhat conspicuous and at times overwritten storyline. Based on a best-selling novel by American novelist John Burnham Schwartz, Reservation Road revolves around a hit-and-run in which a weekend-dad (Ruffalo), who is rushing to return his son on time after visitation, hits and kills a young boy. While dealing with the sorrow of losing their son, the bereaved father and mother (Phoenix and Connelly) drift apart, as the former becomes more and more vindictive after convincing himself that the police are neglecting the case. At the same time, the perpetrator struggles with his misdeed and considers turning himself in. But before he does, he realizes that his life is more intertwined with the lives of the bereaved than any of them were aware of.
Terry George's fine direction, a seamless presentation of a wriggling, tone-shifting narrative with enough potential pitfalls to make the entire film counterproductive, is one of the key reasons why Reservation Road stands as one of the best films of 2007. The explosive acting is another, with all three lead actors giving close to career-best work. Ruffalo making his character highly human and identifiable without demonizing or resorting to self-pity as his basic motivation. And Phoenix and Connelly work their entire emotional register in two immaculate performances, where they tear themselves and each other to pieces before ultimately standing naked against each other and the world - with no defences left.
Compared to many other films dealing with grief and revenge, Revolutionary Road has a constant and higher level of tension and ambivalence to it. Unfortunately, the film was anything but successful when it was given a very limited release in 2007, and many critics panned it, among other things for being too constructed and for promoting vigilante justice. Incidentally, many of the aspects these reviewers criticized are also what makes the film so layered and gives it such a timeless, universal appeal. The film doesn't only explore some of the most extreme human emotions, but also views them in a complex social and interpersonal context. And although the film indeed discusses vigilante behaviour, if anything, it opposes it. All the lead characters in Revolutionary Road deal with guilt and grief. And the film claims that although society and the law is clear on the former and has no place for the latter, both must really be settled in the heart and mind of each person affected by it.