Freeway (1996 with Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon)


USA / 1996

Director and Writer: Matthew Bright

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Amanda Plummer, Michael T Weiss, Brooke Shields

Matthew Bright’s debut (and only) feature is a dark take on the Little Red Riding Hood myth but with enough tongue-in-cheek humour to leaven the darkness. Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) is 15 and struggling with school and life – her mother Ramona (Amanda Plummer) is a hooker who gets busted for drugs, leaving her with stepdaddy Larry, (Michael T Weiss) whose thoughts for her aren’t necessarily exclusively parental. Due to be sent to a youth home, she flees in a stolen cop car to get to grandma’s house. But when the car catches fire she accepts a lift with Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), who sounds just like a caring child psychologist but has suspiciously big teeth.

She survives his attentions thanks to the gun she stole from her boyfriend, but there is no fairy-tale ending. The man she thought she’d killed re-emerges, hideously scarred, on TV talk shows with his caring wife Mimi (Brooke Shields playing wonderfully against type), to lead a campaign against Vanessa, and not even hiding out in Tijuana can save her.

Bright, who wrote the script for the teens-in-trouble Gun Crazy , sets his film in the world of white trash, casual sexual abuse, drugs and violence. But his snappy dialogue, sense of the absurd and driving plot takes the film out of the exploitation genre into a satire of all those true-crime reports and prurient American chat shows that clog the airways. Witherspoon gives a truly mature performance as a teenage girl old before her time, and has since gone on to leads in Pleasantville , American Psycho and Little Nicky . Sutherland, who started out so well with The Lost Boys , Flatliners and A Few Good Men but has since to reach such heights, turns in a performance of controlled psychoticness that Dennis Hopper or Jack Nicholson would have been proud of.