For her sophomore feature Paradise Highway from Lionsgate, director Anna Gutto teams up with Academy Award winners Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman. An engrossing thriller about the underbelly of human trafficking in the trucking industry and its seamy underbelly set in this industry. To save the life of her brother Dennis (Frank Grillo), Sally (Binoche), a truck driver, reluctantly agrees to smuggle illicit cargo: a girl named Leila (Hala Finley). During the perilous trip across state lines that Sally and Leila are about to embark on, a dogged FBI agent (Freeman) sets out on their trail, determined to do whatever it takes to end a human-trafficking operation and bring Sally and Leila to safety.
In general, whenever an Academy Award-winning actor or actress appears in a film like this, I usually feel that the actor or actress is either doing a favor for the studio or that there is some form of incriminating evidence against them. I am going to be honest and admit that my expectations were not very high when I hit play on Paradise Highway.
If a film wants to bring awareness to the horrible, deplorable acts of human trafficking, then depending on how it is executed, it can take one of two paths. Essentially, the film establishes a nice premise, introducing us to Sally early on with Juliette Binoche fully embracing the alpha female role as it unfolds. It is true that her first scenes with Grillo are somewhat interesting, but once the plot gets rolling, any hope of a cohesive film vanishes in the wind.
There is a good chance that the film was intended to show the strength of women truck drivers. My late great uncle was a truck driver, so I know how grand trucks can get. I will credit Gutto for doing her research and showing how some truckers feel that the road and fellow truckers are their families. But when the film attempts to throw in the human trafficking subplot is where it loses footing.
The scenes that Binoche shares with Hala Finley seem like a different film from the rest of the movie. Likewise, this carries over to Morgan Freeman and Cameron Monaghan, who play law enforcement officials looking to find the lost girl. Mr. Freeman is only here for a check, while Monaghan tries to erase any memories of his character from Shameless.
Despite the well-intended intentions of the director and our female star, Paradise Highway isn't a trip worth taking.
Final Grade : D