An Incredible Thriller Has Morgan Freeman Tracking Juliette Binoche


Paradise Highway is a hell of a debut feature film for a writer/director. Anna Gutto distilled years of research into an incredibly unique script and then created a very entertaining movie, featuring acting powerhouses like Morgan Freeman, Juliette Binoche, Frank Grillo, and Cameron Monaghan, which tackles a very important subject. If a filmmaker’s first major work is their calling card, then Gutto’s phone will likely be ringing off the hook.

One of those rare films that’s exciting, fun, and filled with suspense without being part of a franchise or relying on some gimmick, Paradise Highway is a gem that proves how refreshing it is to see original ideas onscreen. The movie follows the tough, terse female trucker Sally (Binoche) on the week that her beloved brother Dennis (Grillo) is set to be released from prison. Throughout his prison sentence, the siblings have coordinated different smuggling operations, using Sally’s cross-country trucking job as a way to transport various goods. When Sally goes to pick up the goods for one last job before Dennis gets out, she realizes that she’s tasked with smuggling a child for sex trafficking.


Juliette Binoche Plays Sally in Paradise Highway


Ethical dilemmas abound here, obviously, as Sally sadly transports the young Leila, a barely teenage girl who may cower but, when given the opportunity, will kill to survive. Leila’s essentially property of a child sex trafficking ring, the same shady group that has helped Dennis through prison. But when this job falls apart, Dennis’ release from prison and Sally’s life come into the crosshairs of some vile people. It’s all very tense, sometimes extremely sad, and executed precisely like clockwork (at least until a somewhat rushed ending, though that’s a small complaint).

Related: Best Juliette Binoche Movies, Ranked

One of the best parts of Paradise Highway is watching the interactions between Sally and Leila, and the development between each of them. Sally is a fascinating character, worthy of Binoche’s genius; she’s of course morally icky but finds herself confronting an ethical impasse that’s too much for her, one which makes her question her morality and relationships as a whole. She’s a very strong and stubborn woman, but one who was irrevocably damaged as a child by her father, which is the reason her sibling bond is so strong (bordering on the incestuous at times, at least for Dennis).

Hala Finley is Incredible Alongside Morgan Freeman


Leila is strong as well, but society has put her in a position of immense weakness. Scrawny and terrified, one can only imagine the amount of pain she’s been through, something that Hala Finley tragically expresses with deep eyes. One of the best child actors working today, Finley utterly stuns in Paradise Highway, even amongst such a stacked cast. The amount of trauma and tragedy this 13-year-old has visibly endured is heartbreakingly conveyed through an incredibly mature performance; while Finley has proven her skills in Man With a Plan and Back Roads, it’s Paradise Highway where one can see the makings of a true star.

The film oscillates between their story and the quest of two cops in pursuit of the sex trafficking ring, Finley Sterling (Monaghan) and Agent Gerick (Freeman). The car rides between Finley and Gerick perfectly compliment Sally and Leila’s semi-truck journey — on one blurry side of the increasingly gray law, two women on opposite poles of age travel the countryside; on the other, a retired agent and a rookie officer follow them. That way, each polarity of this great road trip movie contains elements of difference and antagonism which interrogate each other to come to a better understanding of some type of truth.


The interactions between the two cops are often wonderful, providing a nice break from the saddening but stimulating tribulations of Sally and Leila. Each actor is wonderful here, bouncing off each other with a mixture of sarcasm and earnestness. While Freeman and Monaghan have a wonderful rapport, Paradise Highway is hardly your typical buddy cop movie; it’s not your typical movie in general, actually.

The film is constantly unpredictable, even if certain characters or situations fall into the trap of tropes. The narrative pits all these characters on a collision course with each other, but it’s always uncertain just how it will get to that point; like any good road movie, the journey is more important than the destination, and that’s what Gutto does with her characters.


Positioning pairs of two people in vehicles throughout the majority of the film, Gutto isolates her characters (trapped in a moving vehicle, stuck in the midst of motion) and prompts surprising interactions and conversations. This is a film that makes full use of the term ‘motion’ picture, a movie that’s always moving, not just across the visually stunning vistas and landscapes but through emotional arcs, psychologies, and themes. As the characters develop relationships and gradually reveal themselves, Paradise Highway unveils its own deliberate, damning indictment of the many systems which allow for a child to be sex trafficked.

Related: Best Morgan Freeman Movies, Ranked

Without ever feeling overtly polemical or descending into diatribe, Paradise Highway takes on policing, the foster care system, misogyny, the prison-industrial complex, abuse, and sex trafficking all at once. The film recognizes that none of these single elements exist in a vacuum, and all are part of an economy of suffering, a very profitable exploitation. Gutto ties all the disparate pieces together in her road map of criticism, connecting the dots in a way that’s both dramatically fulfilling and an unmistakable social commentary.

Anna Gutto’s Movie is an Exciting Original


Commentary aside, though, Paradise Highway can be taken at face value as a really entertaining and fulfilling film, a ‘classic Hollywood’ type of movie that doesn’t rely on brand recognition or meticulous CGI to tell an exciting story, and is a rarity in this sense. There are obviously many great dramas and horror films which exist outside the scope of franchise filmmaking and big-budget production values, but the realm of action/suspense/thrillers seems to be bifurcated into either cheap direct-to-video movies or gigantic $200 million spectacles with excessive special effects. Paradise Highway manages to find a middle ground, an immensely pleasing way to entertain without joining the bandwagon.

The aforementioned ending is a little rushed and perhaps too optimistic for a film about such heavy, important things, but it’s still very well-acted and directed. Gutto does an excellent job with night sequences, using headlights, fluorescence, and neon to illuminate her tracking and overhead shots, as well as some action. A massive truck stop sequence in which everyone converges at night without realizing it is perfectly filmed, a suspenseful, lengthy scene that’s one of the best of the year so far. Gutto’s talent with previous short films transfers over to Paradise Highway better than one could have imagined, and her skill with actors (after having been one herself) is apparent, coaxing wonderful performances out of everybody.

Paradise Highway is an unexpected delight, despite its often depressing subject. Everything works together well, and if the final minutes aren’t the greatest culmination one could hope for in such a good film, it bears repeating — it’s the journey, not the destination. From Lionsgate, produced by Claudia Bluemhuber, Georgia Bayliff, Michael Leahy, and AnnaGutto, Paradise Highway is in select theaters, on demand, and digital.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *