Adopt a Highway released this year with seemingly no marketing campaign to speak of. I had not heard of this film until I saw the blu-ray was being released by RLJE. I’m very glad that I was given the chance to review this one. Let’s get down to it.
Starring Ethan Hawke as Russell Millings, who has been recently released from prison after serving 20 years on a third strike offense of having an ounce of marijuana with the intent to sell. He is a quiet, slow moving and speaking man who has clearly been institutionalized. But don’t let that fool you; he may be an ex-convict but he is a gentle man, albeit lost in himself and unsure of the world he now finds himself in.
Russell gets himself a job as a dishwasher in a local burger joint. He’s a good worker, but struggles to adhere to social life. A lot has changed in the previous 20 years, I mean the man has never used the internet for crying out loud. So when he is closing up the restaurant one evening and hears crying out of the dumpster, he is very much out of his element.
However, finding an abandoned baby just might be the best thing that has ever happened to Russell.
I’ll start off now by saying that the synopsis and the Dove Approved sticker on the slipcover had set my expectations to a low state. Especially given the fact that Hawke is right off of First Reformed and this film getting no real marketing to speak of. But I must say, this movie is likely to be on a short list of my favorite 2019 films.
Ethan Hawke will not be nominated for this film, but his acting is up there for best of the year. The layers of thought and reflection he shows as Russell are truly masterful. His character is somewhat simple, but the subtleties of his movement, the way he avoids others’ eyes, and his pacing of talk all together give you so much more insight to the mind of this man. By the end of the film, I had been moved to tears at his growth, and I as fully invested in his well being.
The one downside to this film has to do with pacing. We view three different episodes of Russell’s journey that string together quite rapidly, but they feel very separated and slightly jarring. I get that the intent is to show that finding Ella warms Russell up and let’s him being a journey to self discovery and improvement but it all happens to fast in a series of tangentially connected segments that just felt slightly off.
I will say this though, they avoided the rote ending and instead did something that I very much appreciated. I won’t spoil anything here, but there was an opportunity to throw everything away and cash in on the “perfect” ending, but instead they did something unexpected. They chose wisely.
The cinematography in this film was great. There were a lot of beautiful scenes, some of which were due solely to Ethan Hawke’s fantastic acting. Overall, this movie looks fantastic, which a lot of great colors in contrast to the story content (Russell’s yellow hoodie suggests playfulness, but the film is anything but).
With a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio surround track, the film sounded just fine. There was not an exciting amount of surround action to be heard, but the movie was not lacking due to its dialog driven nature.
While this Blu-ray comes with a really nice slipcover, there are sadly no special features.
Our Recommendation for Adopt a Highway:
Adopt a Highway was one of this year’s biggest surprises to me. The synopsis had me assuming one thing but I was delivered something so much more than I had thought. There is a bit of a bait and switch in that less of this story involves Ella than you would expect, but Russell’s story is very touching, devastating, and heartwarming at the same time. I cannot recommend this film enough.