If the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, there must be a special circle for directors who’d milk a child’s death for cheap manipulation. Terry George’s adaptation of cowriter John Burnham Schwartz’s novel begins with the unfortunate demise of a young boy in a hit-and-run accident. The story centers on how the characters cope: Dad (Phoenix) channels his rage into finding the culprit and commiserating in support chatrooms; Mom (Connelly) focuses her energies on their other child; and the driver, a lawyer (Ruffalo), attempts to silence his conscience and cover his tracks. You could even forgive the parade of coincidences (of all the legal eagles in town, guess who Phoenix solicits?) if George actually used this tragedy to nobly examine the nature of healing.
But this shameless piece of multiplex-ploitation has virtually nothing enlightening to say about either guilt or grief; it simply provides histrionic fodder for potential Oscar clips. Which is a double pity, since the mawkish material leaves the usually wonderful cast lumbering around like dinosaurs in a tar pit. Reservation Road confirms what George’s previous film, Hotel Rwanda (2004), hinted at: The director can’t seem to figure out the difference between using tragedy to explore emotions and hijacking it to bludgeon viewers into submission