Paradise Highway Review
Paradise Highway (2022) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Anna Gutto and starring Juliette Binoche, Morgan Freeman, Frank Grillo, Hala Finley, Cameron Monaghan, Christiane Seidel, Veronica Ferres, Jackie Dallas, Walker Babington, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Susan McPhail, Diva Tyler, Jwaundace Candece, Tracy Pfau, Raymond McAnally, Jim Dougherty, Jayden Hamilton and Joey Traywick.
Oscar winners Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman star in a dramatic action movie called Paradise Highway. While it is a thought-provoking drama, it is ultimately undermined by its predictability and its less than stellar performance from Freeman who has definitely seen better days. This new picture is well-meaning but the good intentions are sometimes lost in translation.
Written and directed by Anna Gutto, the film begins with the story of a man in jail named Dennis (Frank Grillo, always reliable) who enlists his sister Sally (Binoche) to deliver one last “package” before he will be released from prison. When Sally discovers the package is actually a young girl named Leila (Hala Finley), morals and compassion come into play and we’re never quite sure which way Sally will turn next. Will she be loyal to her brother’s needs and wishes or ultimately bond with the young Leila and try to help her live a normal life?
Freeman appears in the movie as FBI operative Gerick and is given some bad dialogue which includes multiple uses of the ‘F’ word (hint: the word is not ‘fudge’). Gerick is partnered up with the “wet behind the ears” Special Agent Finley Sterling (Cameron Monaghan) who has previously lived a privileged life. They get in on the action when Sally’s delivery of Leila to an older pickup man goes awry setting forth a chain of events that lead Sally and Leila to go on the run. Sally grows attached to Leila and they form an earnest relationship that sometimes rings hollow. That’s because if Sally had any common sense, she’d forget her lost cause brother and go right to the authorities.
Sally ends up drinking whiskey in a bar one night while Leila is out and about and Sally crosses paths with Gerick and Sterling who seem to be on a wild goose chase until they eventually get “warm” in terms of finding answers to their difficult questions. The movie also sets up a plot device where truck driver Sally befriends other women truckers on the road who will undoubtedly come into the movie later on.
The trafficking of young girls is the premise at the center of Paradise Highway and it deserves a more accurately depicted movie about the subject matter. Instead, the movie dissolves into a straight action picture where the good intentions of the filmmaker get lost in the shuffle and the story simply becomes “good guys” versus “bad guys.” Sally is a smart woman and should have bailed out on her brother long before the movie’s climax. It eventually reaches its predictable conclusion after some rather mundane scenes which occasionally drag.
That being said, there are some touching moments between Sally and Leila. They are two females who form a mother-daughter type of bond in the process of all that transpires during the picture. Binoche and Hala Finley portray their characters as well as can be expected under the circumstances but the movie gets bogged down in trying to fit into the conventions of the lackluster action movie script.
Paradise Highway tackles some heavy issues amidst the action scenes but the script ultimately undermines the majority of the noble intentions of the story. Despite Grillo’s best efforts, his character is so transparent that we know what he will be up to once he gets out of jail. Sally thinks family is important but when she so clearly sides with Leila, why does she still even bother with the brother? This is what I was thinking the whole latter part of the picture.
Morgan Freeman almost telephones his performance in here. It’s a shame to see an actor of his caliber losing his way. One can only hope another Oscar-worthy role comes his way soon. Binoche could get away with this performance but just by the skin of her teeth.
Ultimately, I appreciate that movies on the important issue of trafficking are being made. We need them to not rely on the conventions of every day scripts to get out into the public view. Anna Gutto’s new film is really not a bad movie but it needed another rewrite and more substance regarding the issues it presents to be recommended viewing.
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