Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields
Director: Matthew Bright
Running Time: 101 mins
Freeway is an American film about an illiterate teenage girl from a troubled home who runs away from a social worker trying to care for her, only to encounter a sadistic serial killer while she tries to find a safe haven.
Hidden away in the annals of indie movie history, Freeway might just be one of the most inexplicably overlooked films of the last couple of decades. Though not perfect, it’s an intense watch, with a shocking combination of unrelentingly dark drama, even darker humour and thought-provoking themes.
Couple that with an outstanding lead performance by a young Reese Witherspoon, as well as a disgustingly slimy and villainous turn by Kiefer Sutherland, and Freeway has all the ingredients of a cult indie classic that’s difficult to stomach, but has real worth in the end.
Of course, while it hits home on a particularly dark level, Freeway isn’t quite a perfect film. Its pacing is a little lethargic, and its drama doesn’t go beyond an uncomfortably dark level to something genuinely devastating. As a result, it’s not a film that will make you cower as you watch it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of cult classic status.
After all, its drama is uncomfortably close to home throughout, taking on an incredible range of real-world social issues in such a short space of time, and on such a small narrative scale.
The film follows Reese Witherspoon as a troubled young woman who escapes an abusive family home, only to find herself in an even more dire situation when she encounters a perverted man on the freeway.
That opening act is difficult enough to stomach – with a hard-hitting look at deprived families and domestic abuse – but things only take a darker turn when Kiefer Sutherland’s disgusting character arrives on the scene.
The film then briefly becomes a horrifying look at abduction, perversion and paedophilia, in a sequence that only runs for a few minutes, but feels like an eternity longer such is its uncomfortable tone.
Right from the start, Freeway really does well to get to the crux of a handful of particularly nasty social issues in strikingly direct yet dark fashion. And even after that opening act, things just keep getting darker.
It’s at that point of the film – about a third of the way through – that it becomes apparent there’s no hope ahead. The story just keeps going to more and more devastating places, with a series of unpredictable and shocking twists that make your stomach churn, while it continues to strike up sobering commentaries on issues such as the justice system, child prostitution and more.
As I said earlier, there is something about the film that doesn’t manage to tap into a more intimate, emotional level of darkness, and as a result it’s not quite as devastating as you might expect. However, with such an unrelenting capacity for bleak drama, Freeway is a really difficult watch at times, reminiscent of the equally devastating likes of Welcome To The Dollhouse.
Saying all that, however, the lead performance from Reese Witherspoon is exceptional – both as likable as she always is yet with a real grit that we’ve never seen from her since. Her performance is assured and eye-catching throughout, and even despite her young age at the time, I’d say it’s fair to count this as one of Witherspoon’s best and most iconic roles of all.
All in all, Freeway is far from an easy watch, but it’s one of those films that’s really worth your time even if it is difficult to stomach. With a spectacular lead performance from Reese Witherspoon and a story that brilliantly combines hard-hitting social commentary and unpredictable, unrelentingly dark drama, Freeway is a captivating albeit not quite devastating watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4 overall.