November 15, 1997 -- "Freeway" is the kind of film I usually don't like. It is peopled largely by stupid people, psychopathic killers and low-life criminals.
I suppose the reason there are so many films like this these days is because of the influence of Quentin Tarantino, particularly his films "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." Tarantino used these low-life crooks as a kind of shorthand for society. It enables him to establish characters quickly and easily with quick, broad brush strokes. Then again, maybe he just finds these kinds of characters interesting. Usually, these kinds of characters come off as being rather shallow.
In this film, the central character is Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon of "Fear"). Her mother is a hooker and her stepfather is a junkie who is also trying to molest her. Her rap sheet includes numerous arrests for shoplifting and arson. She has a violent temper, a foul mouth and she's not very bright. She's the hero of the film.
Somehow, despite all of her flaws, Vanessa comes across as a vulnerable, damaged, but innocent person who just wants to have a normal life, but events have conspired against her. When Vanessa's mother and stepfather are thrown in jail, she runs away to find her grandparents.
Along the way, her car breaks down, her boyfriend is killed by rival gang members and she is picked up by a psychopathic killer, Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland "A Time to Kill"). Vanessa discovers that Wolverton is a real sicko who kills people like her because he considers them to be trash.
Vanessa, however, is able to turn the tables on Wolverton, which sets off a whole other chain of events. Since I don't want to spoil it for you, I won't go any further into the plot except to say it has many unexpected turns right up to the end.
Witherspoon is superb as Vanessa. It is a very powerful performance. How she manages to come across as a vulnerable, sympathetic character, I'm not sure, but she did. Sutherland is also quite good as a killer who has lost control of the situation. Brooke Shields plays Wolverton's wife quite convincingly, too.
Writer-director Matthew Bright does a great job for a first-time director. The plot is fascinating as it unfolds. Until the very end of the film you really can't tell what's coming next. What Bright has created is a surrealistic fable of the failings of our legal system and our society as a whole. Another thing that's different is the cops in the film are actually half way intelligent. Now there's a concept! This film rates a B.
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