Paradise Highway (2022)

ANNA GUTTO

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

/USA, 2022. , , , . Screenplay by Anna Gutto. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by .

plays a long-haul trucker who lives on the road, her bed situated in the cab behind her seat and her paycheques coming out of the deliveries she brings to each destination. Of course, because this is a movie, we can never just accept so unappealing and working-class a lifestyle without emotional justification, so thanks to painfully contrived dialogue like “You’re lucky you know where you wanna go, I only know what I’m running from”, we also know that the metaphor of her being constantly on the move is literally a life she spends on the run from her dark past.

On a break between gigs, Binoche pays a visit to her brother in prison, and because he is played by we know that this probably won’t end well for her. He is about to finish a sentence for drug dealing and the two of them are making plans for her to pick him up when he is released in a few days; the siblings, who don’t have the same accent and don’t look a thing alike, survived an abusive childhood in which, she says, he took the brunt of punishment from their monster of a father, so she now feels indebted to take care of him in return.

Binoche is reluctant to do the odd delivery of mysterious packages for her brother, but agrees out of guilt, and just before his prison term is up, he asks her to do one more of these favours for him. She assumes it’s the same old stuff that she is picking up, but is horrified when she shows up to meet her contact and is handed not illegal narcotics but a pre-teen girl () who has been orphaned by her mother’s overdose and is being trafficked across state lines. Binoche tries to walk away from the deal but is warned that the consequences for her brother will be dire if she does, so she takes the kid to the rendez-vous she has been given. Things don’t go as planned, a dead body is left on the highway and Binoche and Finley hit the road trying to figure out what to do next. Making frantic calls to her brother to decide their next step, Binoche must also stay a few steps ahead of angry traffickers and two FBI agents (, ) who are investigating the murder of a man they knew was purchasing sex slaves.

An exciting opening and a few intense showdowns are evocatively photographed by director Anna Gutto, who never manages to sell Binoche as a member of the trucking world but at least avoids the trite cliché that this movie risks falling into so easily, of the tough, loner woman being softened into motherhood by being forced to care for a strange child. Finley gives a wonderful performance and things stay on an even keel between the two main characters, but there a few holes in the plot (like why her brother got her involved in the first place) and a few twists that are easy to predict from miles away that keep it from being a truly exciting experience.

As a result, the story’s issues take precedence over the storytelling and a humorless sermon being preached to the converted is weighed down by excessive earnestness, it’s a film whose scenario feels like an excuse to check boxes off a list for the benefit of our general concern (trafficking of the vulnerable, the horrors of the foster care system, the need for prison reform, the opioid epidemic, and white privilege in the world of authority).

 

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