Cinema Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-5-58-10-pmCatherine Feore returns with Picturenose‘s 900th post and her thoughts on Woody Allen‘s latest.

Sipping on a beer before the film, I overheard a wonderfully Allenesque conversation – words that he might have given to a character: ‘J’ai jamais fait du sport, je suis plutot intello’ (I’ve never been sporting, I’m more of an intellectual).

This was said without a trace of irony, I think I managed to stifle a giggle. The guy probably was an intellectual, but to utter this phrase in the Anglo-Saxon world would be an open invitation to savage derision (happily, it was uttered in Belgium). This raised a worrying question in my mind – there appear to be two camps when it comes to Woody Allen, those who are generally in the ‘he is so over-rated’ camp and those who are ‘devotees’. Am I an intello, who doesn’t like sport? All I can say is that to one of these questions, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

To those in the haters camp, I might be considered incapable of critical judgement when it comes to Allen’s films. I would have to query this a little, but will confess that while I have found some of his films unsettling and some not quite as good as others, I have always found them interesting and I always get some sort of insight from them – I even liked Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Irrational Man is a reference to a book of the same name by William Barret on existentialism; the film also leans on Allen’s fascination with the novels of Dostoyevsky, in this instance Crime and Punishment. When it comes to films that address existential questions, I would place Allen somewhere between Bergman and the director of The Fast and the Furious 3, let’s say near the top. So, if this is your bag, you are in for a fun night at the cinema.

The eponymous irrational man is Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a philosophy professor who is resigned to the pointlessness of existence; I say pointlessness, because he has already transcended meaninglessness and despair. Refreshingly, Allen has allowed Phoenix to play an angst-ridden man without forcing him to adopt Woody-like mannerisms – other actors have been less able to resist.

Abe’s arrival on campus is widely anticipated – Rita (Parker Posey), a bored chemistry professor, who has been serially unfaithful to her often-absent husband, is particularly looking forward to meeting the new professor and potential conquest. The other main character, Jill (Emma Stone), is a student who sparks Abe’s interest with an essay where she heavily critiques one of his books.

Jill comes to idolize Abe, and fails to see that ‘he’s a wreck and he smells’. Jill is not the most interesting character, especially compared to the sassy Rita. It would be difficult to see Jill’s attraction to Abe, if it weren’t for her insipid and clinging boyfriend. Abe’s capitulation to Jill’s advances is another aspect of his moral decline.

SPOILER ALERT!

Abe and Jill overhear a discussion in a diner, where a women tells her friends about how a judge has given the custody of her child to her ex-husband who has shown little or no interest in his child to date – she has been impoverished by the legal process and sees no point in an appeal, especially since the judge seems unlikely to move and is an acquaintance of the errant father. Abe decides that he is going to intervene and murder the judge. Initially, he verifies that the judge is the despicable person he appears to be, then he starts to follow his movements and plan his crime. Abe is liberated by his action and feels no guilt afterwards, just a new found love for life. Predictably, things start to go very wrong; when Jill discovers what he’s done, she urges Abe to turn himself in.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film as much as other Allen work; at times it felt like there had been a lot of cutting and pasting from earlier films. There were a couple of brilliant moments, for example when Abe demonstrates how Russian roulette works to a bunch of optimistic, preppy students, but on the whole, there weren’t many laughs and this can definitely be classed as one of Allen’s darker films, alongside Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Feeling nostalgic for cheerier works, I turned to Hannah and her Sisters (1986), my preferred take on existence where – after dabbling with various religions – Mickey (Allen) finds meaning through the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933), concluding: “What if the worst is true, what if there is no God and you only go round once, and that’s it? Well don’t you want to be part of the experience? It’s not all a drag and I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts. And afterwards, who knows…”

Is this a great Woody Allen? No, it is not, but ultimately he is still the best at this kind of stuff – maybe too comfortable with it, as I sometimes felt in this film. To pull off a work that explicitly addresses existentialist  ideas with any aplomb requires skill – I wouldn’t place this movie (his 50th!) in the top ranking of his work to date; however, to my mind, 97 minutes in a cinema exploring existential ideas beats several evenings in reading Kierkegaard.

97 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Master (2012)

the-master_water

No mastery here

Been a while, but I’m back now, happy to be back, thanks to everyone who has kept it with Picturenose. I just wish I could bring you better news upon my return, but such are the perils of writing about movies – every so often, you’re going to find one that has seemingly everything going for it, including an ensemble cast, a terrific premise and one of the best directors working today, period (Paul Thomas Anderson), and yet emerge from its (near interminable) 138 mins feeling frustrated, even angry, at the waste of time that you have just experienced.

The film is The Master (2012), and both myself and very good friend with whom I went to watch it at Brussels’ excellent Cinematek had both been looking forward very much to catching up with P.T.’s latest. After all, this was the man who had brought us the simply marvellous There Will Be Blood (2007) and Magnolia (1999), and the very sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a quasi-religious movement known as ‘The Cause’ that is gaining popularity and notoriety in the US post World War II, and which should definitely, absolutely not be taken as being in any way referential to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

Both of us were fascinated and settled into our seats eagerly to enjoy the film. Which didn’t happen. At all.

Joaquin Phoenix, it must be said, is well cast and delivers a snarling, twitching performance as WWII vet Freddie Quell who, because of his alcoholism, sex addiction and general misanthropy, is having great difficulty adjusting to civilian life after the war. Stowing away on Dodd’s boat, the pair meet and develop a liking for each other (which is helped by Dodd developing a liking for Quell’s mysterious hooch, which has paint thinner as one of its ingredients). Offering to help Quell sort out his issues with the ‘Processing’ techniques that are an integral part of his philosophical movement, Dodd welcomes him into his life. But Quell is very resistant to change…

I was around 45 minutes into the film when I first realized that I just didn’t care about any of the characters at all – Hoffman plays the spiritual leader with none of the charisma of his earlier performances, nor the charisma that one would expect a guru like Dodd/Hubbard to have. Amy Adams is utterly insipid, quel surprise, as Dodd’s wife and, while Phoenix’s anger and self-destructive tendencies are arresting at the outset, his performance quickly becomes a one-note turn.

What’s more, to our amazement, the film was simply deathly dull and, as we both realized once it was over, utterly pointless. Of course, I am perfectly aware that my take flies utterly in the face of the accepted wisdom concerning the film, namely critical acclaim across the board, but I care not a jot – it just didn’t do it for me. I’d tell you to go and see it, so we could have an argument, but I’m serious when I say that I would not wish that upon you.

138 mins. 

Cinema Movie Review: Her (2013)

herLove from the machine?

Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.

Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”

All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.

Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.

As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.

The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.

In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.

Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.

126 mins.

Movie Feature: Top 15 ‘Gotta-Sees’ of 2013

comingsoonPicturenose just keeps getting better and better – we would like to warmly welcome our latest recruit, Brussels resident Tom Donley, who joins us to cast a cold eye over new releases and personal faves/hates. He begins with a look ahead to the rest of the year – take it away, Tom.

Now that the awards season is coming to an end, we can begin to look forward to the next crop of entertaining movies in 2013. With thousands of films being released every year throughout the entire world, it can be difficult to zero-in on what films to get excited over. Whether it’s the director or cast members attached to each film, here are the 15 films I am most looking forward to in 2013.

1) To the Wonder
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem
Why: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005) are all among my favorite movies of all time. You either love his style or hate it. I gobble it up.

2) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Casey Affleck
Why: The buzz out of last month’s Sundance for this film was extraordinary. It reminds me of the buzz Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) received last year, and that movie turned out to be my second favorite film of 2012.

3) Simon Killer
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Michael Abiteboul
Why: Just watch the trailer.

4) Before Midnight
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Why: Richard Linklater has always been able to captivate his audience. Havingbeen responsible for such mainstream films as Dazed and Confused (1993) and School of Rock (2003), this third installment of the Before series (Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)) is sure to please.

5) Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Why: If you have never seen Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) or Children of Men (2006), then you will not understand the excitement for his latest challenging project.

6) The Young & Prodigious Spivet
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Kyle Catlett, Judy Davis

Why: One of my favorite directors, Jeunet has considerable range as a storyteller. His previous films Amélie (2001), Delicatessen (1991), and The City of Lost Children (1995) are all prime examples of his ability to tell a story like no one else.

7) Only God Forgives
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Tom Burke
Why: If it weren’t for 2011’s The Tree of Life, Winding Refn’s Drive would have captured my favorite film of 2011. In Only God Forgives, he again teams up with Ryan Gosling as a gangster in Bangkok.

8) Pacific Rim
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Ron Perlman
Why: Guillermo del Toro. Ron Perlman. Idris Elba. Charlie Day. That is why.

9) Star Trek: Into Darkness
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana
Why: The biggest surprise for me was how much I enjoyed Abrams’ first Star Trek remake. All the actors are back and, based on early footage, it looks just as good as the first.

10) Trance
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel
Why: Boyle has never disappointed. He has the greatest ability to move his audience through the music he incorporates into his films. Trainspotting (1996), 127 Hours (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Millions (2004) are all soundtracks that I own.

11) Her
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, and Joaquin Phoenix
Why: About a writer who creates relationships through an operating system designed to meet his every need. Spike Jonze has shown he is capable of producing thought-provoking material surrounding unconscious relationships with his previous films Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and Being John Malkovich (1999).

12) The Counselor
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz
Why: The film is written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men (2007), The Road (2009)) and includes the heaviest cast in any movie this year.

13) Nymphomaniac
Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, and Stacy Martin
Why: Von Trier’s movies are not for the weak. To put it simply, they are not films you recommend to someone, but the films change you and your outlook on life. Not something that commonly occurs with most movies. Best example would be Dancer in the Dark (2000).

14) Inside Llewyn Davis
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan
Why: Like Boyle, the Coen Brothers have a knack for incorporating songs into their story in a way that takes the story to the next level – the Coens have always been able to direct knockouts.

15) The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Why: Cianfrance’s first release Blue Valentine  (2010) had so much raw emotion and was so well acted that I was shocked it didn’t get more press. I am looking forward to his sophomore project.

Plus five comedies to look forward to in 2013:
The To-Do List
Anchorman: The Legend Continues
The Bling Ring
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This Is The End

Your Life in Cinema

We just love new recruits here at Picturenose Towers, and we are *delighted* to have acquired the talents of the erudite and charming Sophie Glaser who, to open her account, muses on why perhaps we’re all much better off without a film director pulling our strings. Take it away, Sophie.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, or you know, Friday just before lunch, my mind was wandering around unsupervised and tripped on a bizarre thought. Being of the un-censoring sort, I immediately shared my musing with my 200 closest friends. The thought itself is very simple: ‘Aren’t I lucky that film directors don’t get to direct my life?!’

So, here’s the sales pitch:

If you enjoy realism, please try our special offer on Brian De Palma. A heightened sense of the dramatic and the underplayed would mean that you might not even notice it at first, you might even forget it, until a dreaded angle shot came at you. Suddenly the suspense would hit you, then Al Pacino or Robert De Niro or some other high-priced method actor would gun you down.

Supposing this happened, you wouldn’t really have much of a life left, aside from maybe a nice split-scene soliloquy in which someone remembers you fondly as the other frame lounges over some piece of scenery. All in all, four out of ten, would not recommend to the faint hearted or Kevlar-less.

If you aren’t too keen on realism why not try our implausibility offer; a Michael Bay-directed life. Imagine, if you will, a car. It sits in an oversaturated frame of an inner city parking lot, it explodes, you make a joke. Now imagine your favourite aunt sitting in an oversaturated frame in a comfy chair, she explodes, you wear a grim expression. Imagine your dog (added sats), he turns out to be working against you. You drop him off a building, he explodes, the building explodes, the city explodes. You walk away from it in slow motion, you make a death-joke that you can’t hear because your ear drums are bleeding. Cut to black.

Perhaps, on the other hand, you prefer your life a little less loud and a lot more macabre. I recommend the Burton life: you are Johnny Depp, your wife is Helena Bonham-Carter, and you live in an igloo made of quirkiness. You are quirky. You have two children, they are Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. They are quirky. Your lives a quirky. Everything is bloody quirky. Take your quirks and quirking quirk off.

Sorry, I got mildly distracted there – sticking with the peculiar, let’s move on.

A David Lynch-directed life is…complex. You stare into the mirror, or is it staring at you? You take a fishing trip with your dad and his buddies, you catch a midget dressed as a mermaid who warns you of a great evil. In the background, a cow knocks over a vase. Your life ends with heavy synth music.

Of course, much better Lynch than M. Night Shyamallamallamallamamamapijama; you are a mild-mannered nobody. Your life is uneventful and tedious. You have no redeeming qualities. Suddenly you can see ghosts/find a mermaid/start dying from pollen allergies/ruin a film, this leads you on a journey of introspection and yet more boredom. SUDDENLY SPACEMONKEYS WITH SQUID GUNS! Also, it turns out that it was the stapler that sabotaged your relationship, not your mind-numbing blandness.

Personally, I would go for the more traditional sort of director, maybe Frank Capra. Yeah, good ole Capra. Your life is okay, you have 2.4 children and you are married to a 1950s housewife who cooks, cleans and looks as she should (none of this opinionated stuff). You play baseball with your son, and you teach your daughter the value of shutting the hell up, and the baby of indeterminate sex remains in the pram or crib at all times. Your life gets rough, but everything ends up fine and you hug everyone, safe in the knowledge that as a white male you are the supreme master of the universe. You may now high-five God.

If Capra is not for you, then try Ridley Scott, the prime example of how the mono-myth can be fun in space or in Rome. You are Maximus Decimus Ripley, Petty Officer to a destroyed ship, space marine flunky and you will have your vengeance, in this sequel or the next. You spent much of your time covered in sweat in an impossible situation. Finally you devise a cunning plan to vanquish your foes. You crawl through a vent with your trusty companion Hicks, and a small girl played by 6’3″ Djimon Hounsou. You arrive at the centre of the hive and face off with the Alien Queen played by Joaquin Phoenix, and you blow him out of an air-lock to the space lions. You die, but everyone else lives happily ever…oh no, wait, they’re all dead now too. All in all, I feel as though there are maybe some flaws with this pitch.

I suppose in reality the best would be to just allow Woody Allen to direct us all – what’s the worst that could happen? We’d all be socially awkward, and eventually find some measure of happiness. I thank you.

Signs (2002)

Signs (2002)Alien vs predictable

I caught this on the telly the other night. I didn’t like it. What had all the makings of a potentially good movie quickly descended into a trite and ultimately pointless experience. We all know that M. Night (The Sixth Sense (1999)) Shyamalan has his off days as a director (The Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008)) but this really did suck something fierce in the last 20 minutes or so. Be aware that there are spoilers throughout this review. It seems only fair to let you know, but actually I don’t believe I could spoil it any more than Mr Shyamalan has managed himself.

It actually starts very well. The tension and expectation is built really quite competently, the characters are roughly drawn but mostly believable and it has all the makings of a good creepy hour or two of viewing. The problem is that it lets itself down by being a load of old crap at the end. Stop me if I’m getting too technical for you, won’t you? I’ve already worked out why Mel Gibson wanted to be in it, as he’s become the kind of establishment whore who will use any vehicle to spread his message of the love of a benevolent god (unless you’re Jewish, apparently) – but what the hell was Joaquin Phoenix thinking of? The guy’s my absolute hero after seeing him in Walk the Line (2005) and a damn fine actor to boot. He must have seen the number of zeroes on the cheque they waved at him and thought “what the hell?”

Still with me? OK. Ex-reverend Graham Hess (Gibson) has recently lost his wife in a rather unpleasant car accident involving her and the local vet. He made it to the crash scene and saw his wife die. He is an ex-reverend because he loses his faith in god at this point. His brother Merrill (Phoenix) moves into the farmstead to help look after Graham and his two kids, Bo and Morgan (a very cute Abigail Breslin and a very-like-his-brother Rory Culkin). Things are afoot, however. The family dogs begin to act strangely (it’s always the dogs) and mysterious crop circles are found in their corn fields. Was it a simple prank by local youths, or some sinister guidance mechanism by alien beings surveying the area for a future invasionary force? I guarantee, by the end of the film, you won’t care.

I may as well let you into the big secret – it’s aliens. Gasp. This is the point where the film becomes slightly silly (as opposed the the third act, when it is just cloying and stupid). The classic mistake in any suspense movie is to reveal too much at a time. A bit like a stripper only wearing a boiler suit, only probably not as much fun. Once we have been treated to the view of a very generic-looking alien, the gig’s up. Act two is a kind of War of the Worlds style ‘defend the family from the invaders’ kind of deal. They even hide in the coal cellar – how original. OK, I’m being a bit harsh. Some of the set pieces and the mock news coverage are done well enough, but can ultimately do little to offset the disgrace that is the third reel.

I have three massive problems with the end of the movie:

(i) It’s basically an advert for going to church. If that’s your bag, then fine – I’m not going to knock you for it. I do object, however, to having my Saturday evening hijacked by people telling me how great their brand of religion is though. There are plenty of channels on my satellite box for that sort of thing. All through the film Gibson’s character professes to have lost his faith. I spent most of the film guessing he’d get it back in the end. And what do you know? I was right. Yay me.

(ii) The amount of ‘clues’ given as to how the film is going to end was, at best, excessive. Done correctly, foreshadowing (as it’s called in the biz) can be used to excellent effect. This was less foreshadowing and more ‘shoehorning’ the various component parts of the finale. Graham’s wife’s last words, Merrill’s appalling strike-out rating in baseball, Morgan’s asthma – the list just goes on and on. It’s almost as if Shyamalan believes his audience to be a pack of thickos who get distracted easily by shiny objects and such like. Thanks, M. Night, but we do get the point.

(iii) Last, but by no means least, the aliens can be killed by…wait for it…water. Really? Fantastic. An entire race of alien beings sophisticated enough to travel the void of space in search of life forms to harvest can be wiped out with a garden sprinkler. Seriously, you’d think that they’d be avoiding an ocean planet whose mammalian population consists of around 60 per cent water like Gibson would avoid a Bar Mitzvah. This has got to be the most ill-conceived and just generally crappy ‘twist’ in the history of cinema. I don’t think much of a terrifying alien race who could be killed by the occupants of my local bar at chucking-out time.  Ready boys? Tackle out…aim…fire!

I think I was badly let down because it showed real promise, but just turned into a fiasco. Sorry, but all the signs point to disappointment.

108 mins.

Reservation Road (2007)

Road to nowhere in particular

From John Burnham Schwartz’s novel, Reservation Road (2007) follows the collision-course destinies of Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix) and Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo). Learner is a contented family man and college professor, while Arno is divorced – the latter’s life is a disaster zone, but he is very close to his son, Lucas (Eddie Alderson). One night, Dwight loses control of his car and hits a kid standing on the side of the road, killing him instantly. Panicked, he drives away. And the child? It’s Ethan’s son…

The men do not yet know each other, of course, and state troopers are combing the area looking for SUVs that match Ethan’s vague description of the car that hit his son. Ethan’s wife, Grace (Jennifer Connelly), and their daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) are devastated and Ethan is consumed with finding justice. His path takes him towards the perpetrator of his agony…

The film’s premise could and should have been electrifying, but Reservation Road director and co-writer Terry George (Hotel Rwanda (2004)) unfortunately piles on ludicrous intersections by which the men might meet, mistake and try too hard to manipulate one another. When Ethan needs a lawyer, guess whom he hires? And when Emma finds solace in her music, who do you think offers to give her extra lessons? Such contrivances provide for plenty of tense close-ups wherein the men show their torment, but they also stretch credulity, and the film suffers for the plot manipulations.

It rings mysteriously hollow too, somehow lacking that final thread that connects the viewer. It is consistently entertaining, but never quite packs the emotional wallop that might have been expected, with the final confrontation between Ethan and Dwight a particular let-down. There are uniformly effective performances (Phoenix is very good), but in the end, Reservation Road would have benefited from the presence of a stronger filmmaker behind the camera, as Terry George just doesn’t seem quite up to the job.

102 mins.