Review by Camden Ferrell
Adopt a Highway is a drama film that premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival. This movie is the directorial debut of actor Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade). What the movie lacks in compelling plot-driven narrative is more than made up for by yet another masterful performance from Ethan Hawke.
This film follows Russell Millings, an ex-convict who was a victim of California’s three strike policy. He was robbed of decades of his life due to a minor drug charge. Upon his release from prison, he tries to navigate his new environment when he finds a baby who was abandoned in a dumpster. The movie takes its fish out of water premise to human levels and distinguishes itself in the process.
The script by Marshall-Green is a mostly unobjectionable. It’s a reflective character study with a hint of social commentary spread throughout. It revels a lot in its minimalist exchanges, but it really succeeds in how it develops Hawke’s character through actions rather than words. It’s a modest script, but it’s one that works well with the premise.
The obvious highlight of the film is Hawke’s (First Reformed) performance. It’s become very clear that he is one of the most talented actors working today, and this more subtle role is a testament to his own abilities. He embodies the character in a very realistic way that can feel heartbreakingly real at times. He interacts well with the cast, especially the baby he finds in the dumpster. It’s a fantastic performance that practically defines this movie.
The movie also does say a lot in its parallels between its protagonist and the baby he finds. Marshall-Green meditates on the idea of a stolen life, of robbed opportunities, and uncertainty. At heart, Hawke’s character is still a boy despite what his appearance would suggest. It’s a life that, despite being a victim to society, still has some compassion left in it. This is an emotional message that Marshall-Green attempts to make.
However, this movie does make some surprising choices with its narrative. It goes in unexpected directions that aren’t necessarily bad, but somewhat disappointing. There is a definite turning point in the film where it seems to become significantly less engaging. Hawke remains electric, but the pace severely drags, and the plot feels aimless too often.
Despite this, its final act does have one special moment that is achingly beautiful. It is achieved through the superb acting of Hawke and the development of his character over the course of the film. Even though the film doesn’t even clock in at 90 minutes, it still makes a somewhat efficient use of its time.
Adopt a Highway is not a compelling plot-driven narrative, but a quiet and thoughtful character study. This movie shows promise for Marshall-Green as a director and serves as another showcase for Hawke.
Adopt a Highway is available on VOD on November 1st.