July 29th, 2022
MOVIE: PARADISE HIGHWAY
STARRING: JULIETTE BINOCHE, FRANK GRILLO, MORGAN FREEMAN, CAMERON MONAGHAN, HALA FINLEY
DIRECTED BY: ANNA GUTTO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
I’ll have to put this one on my shoulders. A few weeks ago in my review for Both Sides of the Blade, I spoke about how Juliette Binoche doesn’t deliver bad performances, and although her performance here is fine, she’s certainly part of a movie that fails to work. It has a well-known cast of actors, from Binoche to Morgan Freeman, and an intriguing premise about a woman forced to transport an 11-year old girl being trafficked by criminals, all so she can guarantee the safety of her brother being released from prison. This is all going on while being pursued by FBI agents, which could lead to potential thrilling tension, but sadly Paradise Highway is more of a slog along the interstate. No matter how good Binoche can be, she can’t elevate the melodramatic weight that slows down her newest film.
Paradise Highway is a drama about Sally (Binoche), a woman that drives a truck for a living, anticipating her brother Dennis (Frank Grillo) being released from prison, but before he’s set free his criminal associates outside say he must have one more drug run done. That brings the presence of Leila (Hala Finley), a girl that ends up being the real package, where Sally is put in the position of having to traffick a child across state lines, so that she can ensure her brother’s new freedom. After the initial exchange goes wrong leaving one person dead, this sends Sally and Leila on the run from FBI agents Gerick (Freeman) and Sterling (Cameron Monaghan). The road trip goes on till Dennis is released, with Sally growing closer to her cargo, initially hiding in gas station lots, and sharing in their lives of tragedy. With each moment the tension grows and the police get closer, but mixed in between is a budding relationship between two lost souls.
On paper the concept and screenplay of Paradise Highway sounds promising, but the final production is a meandering slog, often repeating itself, and weighed down by writer/director Anna Gutto’s efforts to keep things tense. Sadly that tension never arrives and various scenes play like actors standing around waiting for direction. That sentiment certainly fits more for Freeman, who plays a character arriving too late for everything, dropping f-bombs with distracting emphasis and commenting about all the red tape that stops him from doing his job. It’s a bit sad to see Freeman taking on a role that requires so little from an actor that always brings more. It’s hard to see what he would see in being a part of this.
For Binoche’s character, she at least has an arc, where her relationship with Leila goes through a journey, no matter how predictable it is. It’s more or less hard to pinpoint why a movie like Paradise Highway doesn’t work, where the structure from Gutto seems inspired by haunting stories of trafficking in the world, but it’s lacking an energy and authenticity that we saw from a movie such as Catch the Fair One. Binoche is ultimately left holding the bag and put in scenarios that feel overacted or cheesy in efforts to make the road trip have leavity. There may be a better movie here, but instead it’s just hitting all the points on a roadmap.
The final question is why an actor of Juliette Binoche’s caliber would be on board Paradise Highway. Did she lose a bet? Did she want to help a friend? For Grillo and Freeman these are movies they have been a part of before and on the scale of their past productions this is better than what came before. Either way, Paradise Highway becomes a struggle to get through, with little joy, energy, or style to think about. There’s no Paradise on this Highway. Only pit stops.
PARADISE HIGHWAY IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND.
Written by: Leo Brady