SYNOPSIS: Academy Award® winners Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman lead this riveting thriller set in the trucking industry and its seamy underbelly of human trafficking. When her brother’s life is threatened, Sally (Binoche), a truck driver, reluctantly agrees to smuggle illicit cargo: a girl named Leila (Hala Finley). As Sally and Leila begin a danger-fraught journey across state lines, a dogged FBI operative (Freeman) sets out on their trail, determined to do whatever it takes to terminate a human-trafficking operation — and bring Sally and Leila to safety.
While award-winning actress Frances McDormand shines in Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, that can’t be said of another award-winning actress, Juliette Binoche’s latest movie. Let’s just say the fault doesn’t lie with Binoche. She is in fact genuinely let down by the story of Paradise Highway.
Paradise Highway is a movie that deals with the issue of child trafficking and trucking in rural Tennessee. Sounds like it’s going to be an action exploitative flick or a compelling, contemplative drama about shady menacing dudes and dark criminal activities. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any tension and purpose after journeying along with Binoche’s character for two running hours.
Sally (Binoche) is a seasoned trucker whose only sibling is Dennis (Frank Grillo), a petty crime criminal who is currently in jail. To help Dennis who is blackmailed by other prisoners, Sally has to traffic illicit goods to others only this time round, the “item” is a young girl named Leila (Hala Finley) and not just any random packages.
However, the exchange went horribly wrong and Sally out of compassion decides to keep Leila with her until she figures a way out. Meanwhile, a retired Fed agent turned consultant to the police force, Gerick (Morgan Freeman) and a Yale graduate rookie, Sterling (Cameron Monaghan) are hot on the heels of Sally. Adding to Sally’s trouble is a pair of child traffickers who are onto her trail as well.
We must say Binoche is solid as a foul-mouthed trucker from Canada. The French actress hasn’t done many memorable titles in recent years but doesn’t mean the lady is rusty. If this is a character study on female truckers, Binoche’s performance will surely be single out during awards season. Then there is octogenarian Morgan Freeman who fails to lend much weight to the movie except constantly dropping f-bombs. 14-year-old Finley is quite the standout and as for Grillo, he mostly appears over the phone and the somewhat haphazard ending.
Norwegian writer, director Anna Gutto’s first full-length feature lacks a distinct style that helps differentiates itself from the usual low-budget affairs from Lionsgate. While the message of human trafficking and the erosion of human values is occasionally surfaced, it’s mostly a road movie featuring Sally and Leila singing to Blondie’s One Way Or Another.
Review by Linus Tee