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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Terry George|
scr John Burnham Schwartz, Terry George
with Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Eddie Alderson, Elle Fanning, Antoni Corone, Gary Kohn, John Slattery, Linda Dano, Nora Ferrari, Sean Curley
release US 19.Oct.07, UK Oct.07 lff
07/US Focus 1h42
Collision course: Ruffalo and Phoenix
What starts as a sensitive, involving drama about grief and guilt annoyingly degenerates into a trite thriller. At least the cast is good enough to keep us watching even as the story gets increasingly superficial and cliched.
When their son (Curley) is killed in a hit and run accident, Ethan and Grace (Phoenix and Connelly) both find it difficult to cope. Ethan is consumed with a desire for justice, while Grace feels hollow and shattered, and concerned for their daughter Emma (Fanning). The man driving the car was the lawyer Dwight (Ruffalo), struggling with his own fear and guilt, especially as he tries to bond with a son (Alderson) who lives with angry ex-wife Ruth (Sorvino). And these two families' lives are more intertwined than they know.
The introduction to the characters and story is intricately plotted to grab our attention with a flurry of legal-political ideas and a suspenseful set-up to the tragic incident. From here, the script begins to layer in several intriguing elements, including back stories, other characters and events that put these people in a true moral blackspot. Although it's always clear exactly what Dwight needs to do (he knows it himself), we can understand his hesitation, even when he meets the surviving family in the worst possible circumstances.
The actors bring a fragility to the characters that we really feel. At the centre, Phoenix and Ruffalo are both men who struggle to make decisions, while Connelly offers a terrific emotional foundation that makes the film feel raw and openly painful. Then the story kicks in again, linking the characters with just a few too many ironic coincidences that essentially remove our sympathy for all of them.
Suddenly we're just watching what these people do, which means we're no longer identifying with them at all--because they've become characters in an over-plotted thriller rather than people struggling with real concepts of justice and vengeance. The contrived series of events becomes annoying silly even as the leading players get increasingly histrionic. And rather than find a path to some form or redemption or mercy, or even a warped sense of revenge, it just falls to pieces. A real shame.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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