I’ve always been somewhat interested in Reese Witherspoon’s work. I adored her in 1996’s thriller Fear, and felt she was well-cast in 1999’s Cruel Intentions. However, I was surprised to stumble upon 1996’s Freeway, to find that this film was by far my favorite of Witherspoon’s.
Also starring Kiefer Sutherland, Dan Hedaya, Alanna Ubach, Brooke Shields, Amanda Plummer and Brittany Murphy, Freeway is the story about juvenile Vanessa, who has been dealt a rough hand in life. After being forced into foster care, she abandons ship and ends up hitching a ride with Bob Wolverton (Sutherland.) She finds out that he is actually the freeway serial killer seen on the news, and she manages to shoot him; taking his wallet, leaving the scene of the crime, and casually walking into a nearby diner with blood all over herself.
Bob somehow survives, although he is seriously disfigured, and out of ignorance to the situation, law enforcement and the media paint Vanessa as a troubled teen killer, with Bob playing the victim.
Although she is seemingly uneducated and somewhat of a ditz, Vanessa shows throughout the film that she is no naïve little twit; her behavior and exterior is as tough-as-nails as it gets, while Witherspoon allows her character to maintain a sexy edge and feminine charm which makes us root for her.
Supposedly this R-rated film, directed by Matthew Bright, was an urban play on Little Red Riding Hood, (perhaps accounting for “Wolverton” as Bob’s last name.) However, Vanessa is no innocent little girl; she is a female who was forced to grow up fast in order to survive. Bright could have easily painted Witherspoon as trailer trash (and indeed her family in the film was,) but instead we find ourselves attracted to this girl with violent tendencies. In this sense, the film speaks volumes on how our society views delinquent kids, how these kids are treated in the system, and how these kids grow up within a world of crime that to most people seems avoidable. If anything, this film gives credit to inner city youth who’ve grown up in lives similar to Vanessa’s.
For being a fairly young actress at the time, Witherspoon plays this role wonderfully, especially in comparison to her romantic-comedy roles in the future. Brittany Murphy and Alanna Ubach star as Witherspoon’s inmates while in prison, and these females bring a sense of demented comedy to this already bizarre yet highly underrated film.