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Anna Gutto
Juliette Binoche, Frank Grillo, Morgan Freeman
Writing Credits:
Anna Gutto

A truck driver has been forced to smuggle illicit cargo to save her brother from a deadly prison gang. With FBI operatives hot on her trail, Sally's conscience is challenged when the final package turns out to be a teenage gir

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 9/6/2022

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Anna Gutto
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “Making Paradise Highway” Featurette
• Trailer


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Paradise Highway [Blu-Ray] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 5, 2022)

Most direct to video projects tend to offer male-centered thrillers. With 2022’s Paradise City, we get a tale with more of a feminine perspective.

Sally (Juliette Binoche) works as a truck driver. When nefarious parties threaten the life of her imprisoned brother Dennis (Frank Grillo), she finds herself forced to smuggle illicit cargo.

To her surprise, this “package” turns out to be teenaged Leila (Hala Finley). With retired FBI Agent Gerick (Morgan Freeman) and his mentee Special Agent Sterling (Cameron Monaghan) on her trail, Sally needs to cope with her conscience and her willingness to act as part of human trafficking.

As noted at the start, Highway focuses much more on the female POV than the average thriller. Not only does it revolve around a female protagonist, but also it comes from a female writer and director.

Does this manage to turn Highway into something different than the usual direct to video thriller? Not really.

I guess Highway hopes to add a maternal link between Sally and Leila that wouldn’t exist with a male protagonist. It seems to strive for a Ripley/Newt connection, especially since the film’s early scenes paint Leila as near feral ala Newt in her first Aliens sequences.

However, the bond between Sally and Leila never feels especially earned. They come together because the script expects them to do so more than because their development matches the narrative.

Not that Highway comes with much of an actual story. Essentially it alternates between Sally and Leila on the run escapades with the FBI pursuit.

Neither part of the movie works particularly well, largely because Highway seems to exist more as a social message than as a true narrative. Writer/director Anna Gutto often lets the plot grind to a halt so the film can deliver facts and figures related to child trafficking.

Does this seem like a noble endeavor? Sure – it’s not like there’s a “pro-trafficking” POV, and it makes sense that a film about that subject would offer some details about how it works in the real world.

However, Gutto seems so focused on discussions of the horrors of trafficking that she forgets to build a compelling movie around it. Even when the flick focuses on characters and story, it feels perfunctory and like it comes with little to offer beyond its “public service announcement” side.

Poor Freeman gets stuck with most of the material in that vein. Ever the consummate professional, Freeman gives it his all and sells the information in such a way that it almost doesn’t feel like the blatant exposition that it is.

But even a talent like Freeman can’t make these grind-to-a-halt soliloquies fit the overall package, and Binoche can’t elevate her scenes either. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I can’t claim to think much of her as an actor, but I won’t blame her for the issues I find in Highway.

That’s because Binoche simply seems grossly miscast here. Sally needs to be played by someone with a strong, tough exterior, and Binoche can’t handle that.

After all, Binoche won an Oscar for The English Patient, a role that asked her to do little more than blubber and mope.

Because Sally acts as a more complex and angry character, Binoche feels wholly inappropriate. As much as she attempts to seem rough and worn down by life, it never comes across as anything other than an awkward act.

All of this leads to a slow and pedantic stab at a thriller. While I respect the film’s social goals, it just doesn’t work as an actual movie.

By the way, the lead actors need to sue whoever did the art for the Blu-ray cover. While I appreciate that the image doesn’t “deage” Binoche, Freeman and Grillo, they look like zombies!

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Paradise Highway appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a more than acceptable image.

Sharpness felt erratic but largely positive. Though wide shots displayed a little more softness than I might expect, the overall package remained fairly well-defined.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and the image lacked edge haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.

Colors opted for a mix of blue/teal and amber/orange most of the time. The hues appeared decent though not dynamic.

Blacks were a bit dense, while shadows seemed a little on the murky side. The image was perfectly watchable if not excellent.

I felt pleased with the fairly good DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Highway. This wasn’t exactly an action-packed mix, so one shouldn’t expect constant auditory shenanigans. When appropriate, the soundscape kicked to life well, but much of it focused on ambient information and music.

Audio quality worked fine. Dialogue worked fine, so the lines seemed natural and concise.

Music offered good range and impact, and effects followed suit. These elements contributed fine dimensionality, with strong low-end at appropriate times. All of this led to a worthwhile soundtrack.

A few extras appear here, and we find an audio commentary from writer/director Anna Gutto. She brings a running, screen-specific look at the project’s roots and influences, cast and performances, sets and locations, factual background, photography, editing and music, shooting trucks, research and related domains.

Expect an inconsistent commentary. On the positive side, Gutto brings some good insights about various production and creative domains.

On the negative side, Gutto tends toward a lot of praise, and she also can simply narrate the movie at times. There’s still enough to make the track worth a listen, but it sputters more than I’d like.

Five Deleted Scenes fill a total of five minutes, 11 seconds. The first shows the initial meeting between Gerick and Sterling. It’s unnecessary but entertaining.

The other four fall into the expository domain and don’t seem especially important. While they offer some value independently, they don’t add anything necessary for the story.

We can view the scenes with or without commentary from Gutto. She tells us background for the clips as well as why she cut them. The remarks bring some useful info.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with The Making of Paradise Highway. It runs 22 minutes, 43 seconds and involves Gutto, producers Michael Leahy, Georgia Bayliff and Claudia Bluemhuber, stunt coordinator Keith Adams, costume designer Stacy Jansen, director of photography John Christian Rosenlund, production designer Frida Oliva, location manager John Read, and actors Juliette Binoche, Frank Grillo, Morgan Freeman, Hala Finley, Desiree Wood, Dianne McNair-Smith, and Veronica Ferres.

“Making” looks at the project’s roots and story/characters, cast and performances, themes and background, sets and locations, costumes and photography. A few insights emerge but most of this feels like promotional fluff.

More of an attempt to educate viewers about human trafficking than a compelling narrative, Paradise Highway fails to connect. The movie seems slow and without the drama or emotional impact it needs. The Blu-ray brings generally positive picture and audio as well as a mix of bonus materials. Despite some potential to connect, the end result feels spotty and unfulfilling.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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