If you're a perfect, WASP-y Connecticut family, one in which your beautiful, polite children catch lightning bugs after sublime cello recitals, and your life seems content in that uniquely smug New England way, don't you imagine you'd be really, really fucked up if some SUV driver plowed over your son and kept driving? At the very least, wouldn't you take a couple weeks off work to grieve?
This hit and run is the central event in Reservation Road (not to be confused with the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio flick, Revolutionary Road), and it happens early in the film. Ethan and Grace Learner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) stop one night at a gas station, and when their son Josh gets out to release some fireflies (New England is so clichéd), SUV driver Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) runs him over, and in a moment of panic, drives off.
From here, the movie follows both men as they deal with the aftermath of the homicide: Dwight, who seemingly gets away with the accident scot-free, is racked with guilt and paranoia, while dad Ethan becomes a man obsessed (and by "obsessed," I mean he stays up all night on chat rooms for parents of hit-and-run victims).
Based on its concept, Reservation Road should have been an all-out gut-wrench fest. If you're going to have a plot device as emotionally manipulative as a dead child, I should at least choke up once, right? But after a day or two of grieving, Grace seems to have moved on pretty well, and Joaquin Phoenix, whose character is supposedly going off the deep end, oddly plays the part with stoic reserve. (He truly comes alive in the film's climax, however, and turns this inner anger into a seething rage with incredible intensity.) Ruffalo is the far more interesting character: On one hand, he's an arrogant lawyer dickbag, but he's also a prisoner of his own guilt and fears, which tighten with each passing day. Ultimately, it's hard to feel much sympathy for him, though, since he, you know, drove away after running over a little kid and everything, and could turn himself in whenever he wanted.
Or maybe he just shouldn't have been a self-obsessed prick speeding down a country road while he was digging for his cell phone in the first place, and he could have spared us all the hassle.