Freeway Film Details
Overview: A twisted take on “Little Red Riding Hood”, with a teenage juvenile delinquent on the run from a social worker travelling to her grandmother’s house and being hounded by a charming, but sadistic, serial killer and pedophile.
Tagline: Her life is no fairy tale.
Review: FREEWAY *Minor Spoilers* Within the first few minutes of Freeway we learn of the “I-5 Killer”, a serial-killer on a murder spree targeting young women. If we can assume the filmmaker knew their business, we can also assume they listened to Chekov: if you hang a gun on the wall in Chapter 1, you’d better be ready to use it by Chapter 3. Then there’s the literal gun the heroine receives in the opening act. Have some faith in Freeway. Both these guns are going off soon enough. Nobody told me before I watched it that Freeway flopped in the box-office or that it developed a ravenous cult-following (read as: had more to offer than your average mindless film). Nobody told me anything about it all: I flipped through a slew of listings, mistook it for a road-film, and settled back for what I thought would be a Kerouac-ian adventure. So when the opening rolled to a backdrop of hyper-sexualized Little Red Riding Hood paintings, with the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Keifer Sutherland on the credits, I didn’t know what the hell to think. How was it that in twenty-six years of existence I’d never once heard of this movie, with big names (that my generation grew up on) starring in the lead roles? And what does Little Red Riding Hood have to do with it? Which gets back to the title of this review. Trigger Warnings: Everything. Reese Witherspoon stars as Vanessa Lutz, a teen with a sub-kindergarten reading level and the worst sort of home life. “Troubled” doesn’t begin to cover it. Her mother’s a prostitute; her step-father’s an ex-con on parole with an obvious predilection for pedophilia. Both are addicted to narcotics (crack or meth, I assumed, though I’ll be the first to admit my absolute ignorance of hard drugs and associated paraphernalia). Vanessa’s boyfriend seems to be the most positive, stable influence in her life, and he’s a gang-banger. We’re rammed straight into this degradation, and if anything the degeneracy and crudity only amplify throughout the story, dropping without any consideration for the consequences the exact kind of four-letter words which land you in hot water with the ratings board. Watching the backdrop unfold left me with that sick feeling you get when you step barefoot on dog crap: technically you’ve not been harmed in any way, but you’re violated and soiled regardless. And despite all that, Witherspoon already brought a fiery effervescence to the role. Not to say Vanessa’s bubbly about her life, but she rolls with the punches without becoming a punching bag. Case in point: when her step-father (fresh off a hit from the crack-pipe) tries to fondle her, Vanessa snaps at him without hesitation, and then calmly resumes watching television as if nothing happened. So when the cops raided the house and hauled her parents off to jail, it didn’t come as any surprise when Vanessa – slyly, but with an almost naive contrition and genuine innocence – cuffs the child-services agent to a bedpost and skips town. When Vanessa hastily packs her get-away bag, it’s all a red basket. And she’s wearing her red jacket. And off to see her grandmother. Kiefer Sutherland stars opposite as Bob Wolverton, a seemingly kindly, well-intentioned counselor who Vanessa meets during her getaway. When her car breaks down, Sutherland pulls over to offer assistance, and when it’s clear the car is donezos even offers her a ride up to LA. He’s dressed in a professorial tweed jacket, elbow patches and all. For a moment I thought we’d seen our Lawful Good character at long last. Someone who’d shine a light on all this filth surrounding Vanessa, who’d offer her a way out. When he begins to counsel Vanessa and she opens up about her challenging childhood and abuse, it seems someone at last has taken a keen interest in Vanessa’s wellbeing. Well, I was right about half of it, anyways. We had Little Red Riding Hood. And we had the grandmother. There’s only one other character in the fairy-tale, folks. In the drama that ensues, Sutherland and especially Witherspoon bring a complexity and skill to their respective roles that I’d never have expected in a million years. I know Witherspoon best from Legally Blond, which my mother must have watched on VHS a hundred times throughout my childhood, and Sutherland of course will always be Agent Jack Bauer in my eyes. Not to detract from either character, actors, or productions – I enjoyed Legally Blond as much as any male pre-teen could, and I ate up 24 even in its worst seasons – but I didn’t expect anything Oscar-worthy from Sutherland or Witherspoon. The American public wasn’t ready for it, and neither were the censorship ding-dongs, but Freeway is nothing short of dramatic gold. Sutherland and Witherspoone play two characters taken to 11, larger than life personalities, and they leave it all on the field in these performances. Two titans (albeit very different people) pitted one against the other as the plot twists and turns through the sordid affair. There wasn’t any other obvious reason I should be enthralled by Freeway – nothing special about the cinematography or scoring, and the sets are LA backlots in typical Hollywood fashion – and if I’m being honest, my inner snob wanted to hate Freeway for its crudeness. But I couldn’t not like it. Witherspoon and Sutherland, whether you like or despise their characters, are too demanding of your emotional investment to truly hate Freeway. At the box-office Freeway failed to bring in more than a tenth of its modest budget, estimated at around 3 million. By commercial standards, it was a failure. Maybe audiences in 1996, hip-deep in the prosperous dot-com bubble, couldn’t connect. But when they write the textbooks for film students of the future, this is one they’d do well to include.
Country: United States, United Kingdom, France
Duration: 102 min
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Also known as: フリーウェイ,Autocesta bez izlaza,Freeway,Encuentro con el Lobo,Προσευχήσου να Πεθάνεις,Pokolsztráda,Autopista,Sin salida,Spojrzenie mordercy,Auto-Estrada do Inferno,Магистрала без изход,Rankka pakomatka,Sans issue,Freeway – No Exit,Freeway – Sem Saída,Шоссе,Prosefhisou na pethaneis,Maniak,Autoput