‘Paradise Highway’ (REVIEW) Serviceable, But Lacking Dramatic Punch

Juliette Binoche as Sally in Paradise Highway. Photo Credit: Nick Burchell

Drama/Thriller | Lionsgate | Runtime: 115m | Rating: R

Written and Directed By: Anna Gutto

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Morgan Freeman, Frank Grillo, Hala Finley, Cameron Monaghan, Christiane Seidel

Synopsis: To protect her incarcerated brother from a prison gang, a truck driver will reluctantly agree to smuggle illicit cargo, unaware that FBI investigators are closing in on her. But when this cargo on her truck ends up being a little girl wrapped-up in a human-trafficking ring, her morals will be put to the test.

Admittedly when watching the trailer for Paradise Highway I didn’t see anything that hasn’t been on screen before in these emotionally driven road-trip thrillers. With that said, I’m a fan of actors, so seeing Juliette Binoche, and Morgan Freeman filling the leads, was more than enough to have me interested. Overall, I did enjoy their performances. Binoche as Sally was able to bring substantial emotional layering to her character and the dangerous dilemmas she faces. Sally’s a tough woman, mentally and physically. You can connect with that. But as the situational torment begins to reveal cracks in this toughness Binoche captures the stress effectively. She’s trying to help her brother for the years he protected her. But when this little girl is thrown into the mix it does create an intriguing battle of the conscience.

As for Morgan Freeman’s Gerick, I will say he does make the most of a rather simplistic character. There wasn’t anything unique about this role, so Freeman is left to fill it with his own personality traits. He plays the veteran FBI operative on the case. Always a step behind until the story doesn’t require it. It’s a typical progression but he inflates the character with his screen presence all the way down to inflating the charm in his generic old versus young dynamic he has going on with his much younger, and by-the-book partner.

What Paradise Highway attempts to deliver seems clear, and there are spots the intent shows. But a slight lack of substance injected into the human-trafficking aspect of the story does make it feel more like a plot device. Rather than being something that truly fuels the dramatic intensity. It’s compelling at times as it flows between Sally and this little girl named Leila turbulently building a relationship as they hide out here and there. While Gerick and Special Agent Sterling retrace Sally’s steps a day or two behind. It’s nothing extraordinarily unique but it can persuade your attention. However, with a longer than needed runtime, and a lack of depth in the core plot of the film, the character issues that result from it just lack a lot of impact and thus are missing that true hard-hitting emotional intrigue.

When the end credits roll Paradise Highway is a fine movie. It is carried by the performances from Binoche and Freeman. Yet, at the same time, their scenes together were a bit flat. Both actors seemed ready to take on these characters, in particular Binoche. Anna Gutto seemed like she intended on writing a thriller with human compassion at the core of it all. But with its stars not fully utilized and a plot progression that takes much longer than needed to tell its story, the result falls short of fulfilling its potential.

Grade: 65%

Anthony J. Digioia II © 2022 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.

Juliette Binoche as Sally in Paradise Highway. Photo Credit: Nick Burchell
Morgan Freeman in Paradise Highway. Photo Credit: Nick Burchell
Morgan Freeman and Juliette Binoche as Sally in Paradise Highway. Photo Credit: Nick Burchell