Hotel Rwanda director Terry George's film version of John Burnham Schwartz's 1998 novel is one of those movies where the characters suffer early and often. This starts the moment that lawyer Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) plows his SUV into the body of Josh Learner (Sean Curley) outside a roadside gas station while the boy's parents, college professor Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly), look on in helpless horror. Dwight, who's carrying a roof rack worth of emotional baggage, stops for a second, then thinks better (or worse) of it and speeds off into the darkness. But soon, in a Paul Haggis–worthy coincidence, Ethan unknowingly hires Dwight to be his advocate in the ongoing search for his son's killer, leaving us to wonder if Dwight's guilty conscience will speak up before Ethan figures things out and goes all Jodie Foster on him. In the meantime, the bathos piles up like autumn leaves: Scenes begin or end with someone crying, blaming himself/herself for events beyond his/her control, and other assorted hysterics that one hoped had gone out of fashion along with eating-disorder-of-the-week TV movies. Reservation Road itself may twist and turn into the New England night, but emotionally and dramatically, the movie that bears its name is a dead end.
Professor Phoenix trades theory for action.
Opens at Meridian, Fri., Oct. 19. Rated R. 102 minutes.