Late one night, a family stops at a gas station as they return from a recital; another man drives his son home from a baseball game. A young boy steps too near the road; a father swerves his SUV to avoid oncoming traffic.
And hits the boy. And keeps going.
Reservation Road, the new film from Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, doesn't deal in the clashing of mighty armies or the conflict between nations; it looks at a smaller slice of the world. At the same time, the themes here -- guilt, sorrow, anger, forgiveness -- are explored with power and passion thanks to two extraordinary lead performances. Joaquin Phoenix plays Ethan, a college professor dealing with the sudden death of his son and how that's affecting his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and daughter (Ellie Fanning). He can't go on. He has to go on. Mark Ruffalo plays Dwight, a lawyer who's just drifting through his life -- his job, his shabby apartment, the ruins of his marriage -- and trying to be a good dad to his son (Eddie Alderson). When Dwight strikes and kills Ethan's son, he keeps going -- a single moment of weakness that comes to devour him. He didn't do anything deliberately. But that's no excuse. It was an accident. But it killed someone.