The Lerner family stop at a gas station late one night. At the same time Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is driving his son home from a Red Sox game. Distracted and trying to get his son back before his ex-wife (Mira Sorvino) goes ballistic, Mark makes a sharp turn and accidentally hits young Josh Learner (Sean Curley) who was releasing fireflies at the side of the road. Knowing his involvement will lose him all rights to see his son Arno drives off without stopping leaving Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace (Jennifer Connelly) to mourn the death of their son and begin a search for the man responsible.
The film does a pretty good job in casting Ruffalo as the man responsible for the crime without making him seem evil. Is he a coward? Yes. Is he responsible for the death of a young boy? Yes. Most of his scenes throughout the rest of the film showcase him dealing with his guilt and trying to find the courage to come clean. The screenplay does a good job getting inside Arno’s head as he comes up with rationalizations and excuses for his actions.
On the other side of the film you have Phoenix and Connelly mourning the loss of Josh. The film successfully allows each character to grieve in their own way, although Ethan’s obsession does come off a little over-the-top at times.
My major complaint about the film is it’s over-reliance on coincidence and dismissing the obvious. How small is this town where Ethan happens to need a lawyer to help with the investigation and hires Arno? What are the odds that Arno’s ex-wife would be tutoring young Emma Learner (Elle Fanning) to play the piano? Why do the cops so quickly dismiss Arno, who owns the same model of car which was seen in the accident, when he can’t produce the car or evidence of where it has gone? The film is filled with many such question and coincidences which begin to pile on after awhile (and I won’t even get into the ease and speed with which Ethan is able to procure a gun). Although everything that happens may be possible (though increasingly less likely) altogether the credibility of the story begins to suffer.
Although the film works, for the most part, it seems to get more and more off-track as it goes along. Also a problem is we are forced to wait for the inevitable confrontation between Arno and Ethan we know is coming even as the film milks the tension for every minute it can before giving it to us, and then promptly ending the story and leaves us with a flaccid climax and no real resolution. It’s an okay film with some good moments, but it could have been much more.