It would be difficult to overpraise Freeway, writer/director Matthew Bright’s maiden effort.
For starters, it gave Reese Witherspoon her best role, a judgement which is not likely to change any time soon. Witherspoon plays Vanessa, the illiterate, none-too-swift trailer trash daughter of a crack whore (an incredibly vivid and believable Amanda Plummer), who is trying to make her way to grandmother’s house to avoid ending up a ward of the state, all the way dodging Bob, a pedophiliac serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland). Vanessa may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but she’s endlessly resilient and resourceful. By the time the credits roll, you will be in love with Reese Witherspoon - I promise.
The script is endlessly quotable and laugh out loud funny. At one point, Vanessa refers to Alzheimer’s Disease as “wiesenheimer’s, where you brain cells run out into your pee.” In a film which is nothing BUT minefields, Matthew Bright avoids every one.
You’ll probably be taken aback by the credits alone, which feature R. Crumb-like cartoon panels of a nubile young woman being chased by a wolf, in an explicit reference to Little Red Riding Hood, backed by the hysteria of Danny Elfman’s musical score, which for once, doesn’t overreach. How could it? This is a picture that features pedophilia, old lady rape, crack whores, child molestation, drive by shootings, necrophilia and Lord knows what else.
You’d think it would be grim, but the film is leavened by anarchic humor at every turn. After one of our heroes is shot in a drive by, the Mexican gang members lean on the horn, which is programmed to play La Cucharacha. Vanessa’s reaction to Bob’s entrance in the courtroom scene, which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for you, is one for the ages.
The filmmaking’s a marvel. For the first half of the movie, no shot is held a second longer than it has to be to make it’s point. One sequence flows smoothly into the next. The first half of Freeway moves like a bullet. And there are all these wonderful touches. When Vanessa shows a photograph of her father that she carries around in her wallet to Kiefer Sutherland’s character, the doofus in the picture is actually mass murderer Richard Speck.
Although almost everything is brilliant about Freeway, probably the most impressive thing is the gradually developing relationship between Vanessa and Bob, the I-5 Killer. It’s all done through dialog and it’s incredible. It’s suspenseful, it’s dramatic, it’s funny, and it’s creepy. Just masterful.
You see, Bob’s a psychologist by trade, and when he picks up Vanessa on the Freeway, he insinuates himself into her confidence and she opens up to him. So, even after she figures out that he’s the I-5 Killer, she still calls him Bob.
After the all but perfect first 100 minutes, the storytelling gets a little shaggier, but Freeway has built up such tremendous goodwill, it helps you over the rough spots.
Watch for Brittany Murphy’s cameo as Rhonda, a scarred up, brain damaged, glue huffing lesbian in juvie lockup who develops a crush on Vanessa. She’s unrecognizable.
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