cutaway shot

Freeway (1996 film)

Freeway is a 1996 thriller film starring Kiefer Sutherland
Reese Witherspoon, and Brooke Shields. It was written and directed by Matthew Bright. The original music score is composed by Danny Elfman, who charged his childhood friend Bright a nominal fee of $1. The film is marketed with the tagline "Her life is no fairytale."

The movie is a black comedy with an animated opening title sequence which suggests Little Red Riding Hood; Witherspoon's character is meant to be Red Riding Hood, while Sutherland's is the Big Bad Wolf.

Plot summary

Vanessa Lutz is a poor, illiterate teenage girl living in the slums of Los Angeles. After her mother is arrested in a prostitution sting, she runs away with a stolen car from her social worker guardian to stay with her grandmother in Stockton. Bob Wolverton, a serial killer and rapist known as "the I-5 killer", picks her up after her car breaks down, and promises to take her to her grandmother's house. (The scenes that take place on the northbound I-5 freeway were filmed on Interstate 5.)

Bob manipulates Vanessa into confessing to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including a prostitute mother and a sexually abusive stepfather. (At one point, Vanessa shows Bob a photo she keeps in her wallet of her biological father. The photo used is actually a picture of mass murderer Richard Speck.) Bob eventually reveals his true nature and tries to kill Vanessa. The tables are turned, however, as Vanessa eventually shoots him several times and escapes.

Vanessa is quickly arrested and questioned by two detectives who write her off as a carjacker, even though she insists Bob had tried to kill her and had told her about his other murders. Bob survives, but the bullet wounds have left him severely handicapped, costing him an eye and disfiguring his face. Vanessa is put on trial, with everyone believing (at first) that Bob is the innocent victim he claims to be. Vanessa goes to prison, while Bob and his socialite wife, who knows nothing of his crimes, are treated like heroes.

Scared at first, Vanessa eventually makes friends in prison, including a heroin-addicted lesbian and a Hispanic gang leader, who helps her escape.

Meanwhile, the detectives reexamine the evidence, and begin to suspect that Vanessa was telling the truth. They then search Wolverton's home, where they find violent pornography in the locked shed adjacent to the house. Confronted at last with what her husband really is, Wolverton's wife commits suicide, after mumbling disbelief that he had hidden child pornography from her. Arriving home at just that moment to find police cars outside his house, Wolverton panics and flees to Vanessa's grandmother's house. (In his earlier encounter with Vanessa, he had apparently obtained a photo of the grandmother, with her address written on the back.)

While posing as a prostitute, Vanessa steals a car from a prospective customer or a"John", and drives to grandmother's house as well (lacking the reed basket that she had with her earlier in the story). Vanessa finds her grandmother dead and Wolverton waiting for her with a gun. After a struggle, Vanessa kills him. The detectives, who wait outside during the gunfire, eventually enter and appear to exonerate Vanessa.


Critical Reaction

Film critic Roger Ebert gave Freeway three and a half stars out of four and stated, "like it or hate it (or both), you have to admire its skill, and the over-the-top virtuosity of Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland."

Film critic Joe Baltake of the Sacramento Bee gave Freeway four stars out of four and called it "a wild, audacious drive-in attraction that takes the 'high' from 'highbrow' and the 'low' from 'lowdown' and shakes them up".

Film critic Mark LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave Freeway four stars out of four and said that it was "rude in the way the truth is rude -- only funnier".

Received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel & Ebert. Roger Ebert stated that Reese Witherspoon's performance was "great" and said "Kiefer Sutherland balances it with a truly inspired villain". He also said how the film was "filled with fine acting". He ended by describing it as "compulsively watchable" and noted that Reese Witherspoon's performance promised an exciting career. Gene Siskel agreed completely with Ebert and commented on how the performances it hits the right notes. The only flaw they noted about the film was that it was "too cute" sometimes, but stated that it was a "good film".

Censorship History

  • The film originally received a NC-17 rating by the MPAA due to graphic violence. It was trimmed to obtain an R rating, with the censored version being released theatrically and on VHS/DVD.
  • The US R-rated version of Freeway was initially refused classification by the Australian OFLC. Two scenes were removed - explicit sexually abusive dialogue between Bob and Vanessa during the car trip on the I-5, and a cutaway shot of Vanessa's dead grandmother towards the end of the film - before the film was classified R18+.
  • The UK (Region-2) 18 certificate version of Freeway is only 98 minutes long versus the 102 minute US (Region-1) R-rated version.


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