Reservation Road Review

Driving home from a concert that featured their ten-year-old son Josh (Sean Curley) on cello, Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace Learner (Jennifer Connelly) stop at a gas station on Reservation Road. Meanwhile, due to a Red Sox game overrunning Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is late returning his own son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) to Dwight's estranged wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino). As Grace takes their eight-year-old daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) into the restroom, Josh wanders towards the road...just as Dwight swerves to avoid an oncoming car and drives head on into Josh. Dwight does not stop.

John Burnham Schwartz's second novel, Reservation Road was published in 1998. It's a very well written book though somehow (and your mileage may vary) not as moving as it could and probably should be. It's more of a study of grief and guilt than a thriller, as it follows Ethan and Dwight (who both narrate in first person – other sections from Grace's viewpoint are in third) as they struggle to deal with what has happened. Schwartz is co-credited with the screenplay with director Terry George. Their names are separated by an “and” (instead of an ampersand) indicating that George rewrote Schwartz's original script. This isn't a point I would normally belabour. It's difficult and often not even possible for a film to be strictly faithful to a pre-existing source. (Exceptions are often for legal reasons, an example being All the President's Men.) Novels, more so than short stories, digress by their very nature, and an effective adaptation is often a process of streamlining. A film has to be faithful to the spirit rather than the letter of the novel it's based on.

However, in Reservation Road those changes remove much in the way of subtlety, which I would think even those unfamiliar with the original novel would notice. An early warning sign is the thumpingly obvious symbolism of the fireflies. Then the unlikely coincidence of Dwight being part of the legal team Ethan hires. (In the novel, the Learners and the Arnos are socially connected, and their children attend the same school, which is far more plausible.) And the way in which Ethan finds out the truth stretches credulity, and the final scene spells out too much. Adaptation is one thing, but this is dumbing down.

There are good things in Reservation Road, notably the performances. Joaquin Phoenix, barely recognisable behind a beard, is particularly impressive as a man undone by a parent's worst nightmare. Mark Ruffalo does his best, but his character is so clearly falling apart you wonder why questions aren't asked. Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino have less to do, but do it ably enough, and there are affecting performances from Elle Fanning and Eddie Alderson. John Lindley's camerawork and Mark Isham's score make solid contributions. But Reservation Road is a straight-to-DVD release in the UK. When better films don't get shown in Britain, it hardly deserves a better fate. It's average but in no way outstanding.


Universal's DVD is encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with the familiar anti-piracy advertisement. Menus are available in both English and Spanish.

Given that this is a new film released by a major studio, you'd expect a top-notch DVD transfer, and frankly there's nothing I could fault this on. It's sharp, stable, with strong colours, good shadow detail and solid blacks. The aspect ratio is 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1, both in the original English and a Spanish dub. This largely dialogue-driven film doesn't have the most elaborate of sound mixes, with the surrounds mostly being used for the music score. The Red Sox chant early on is a good subwoofer moment, though.

The first extra is a set of deleted scenes, which are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 and run 8:04 in total. As is often the case, you can see why they were removed as they don't add anything that isn't established elsewhere. “Looking Back on Reservation Road” (14:40) is a featurette that probably originated in the film's electronic press kit and is the usual mix of interviews, film extracts (spoilers included) and behind-the-scenes footage. Interviewees include the four principal actors, Terry George and John Burnham Schwartz. There's nothing startling here.

Subtitles are available in English and Spanish (the latter non-hard-of-hearing) for the feature and both extras.

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Last updated: 08/06/2018 23:10:32

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