If depicting a grieving parent is a quick way to win audience sympathy, then Reservation Road should have that in the bag because it contains two such sorrowing fathers.
Ethan Learner's (Joaquin Phoenix) world is turned upside-down one night when he stops at a gas station and his young son is accidentally struck by a hit-and-run driver. On the same evening, Dwight Amo (Mark Ruffalo) and his young boy hit something in the dark while distracted by a cell phone.
These New England dads meet again thanks to an amazing "movie" coincidence. When a distraught and frustrated Ethan is unsatisfied by the local police department's efforts to find his son's killer, he decides to hire a lawyer to put some pressure on the officers. The attorney he chooses is none other than Dwight.
Needless to say, there are many tense meetings throughout the remainder of the movie while the audience waits for "The Moment" when Ethan will realize the irresponsible motorist he is looking for is the man right by his side.
Considering Phoenix has to look angry for two hours while Ruffalo does a tortured "what-am-I-gonna-do?" routine, the capable actors bring a lot of depth to the flat characters they are given. And the ten pounds of sweat viewers are likely to lose along the way is a testament to their skill.
Parents should also remember that the presence of young cast members (Sean Curley and Eddie Alderson) doesn't mean this is a family drama. Although falling into the lower end of the MPAA Restricted rating category, the script contains several uses of the sexual expletives and a few other profanities. As well, there are violent depictions, such as the aforementioned car accident, a confrontation with a gun and some hand-to-hand fighting.
Still, the film's biggest problem is that the story's outcome hardly seems worth the suspense endured. Only showing the protagonist and antagonist wrestling with their pain, it never really offers any insights that might give the situation a glimmer of hope or some positive potential. Consequently, this journey down Reservation Road holds several points of interest, but ultimately leads to a dead end.