(director/writer: Logan Marshall-Green; cinematographer: Pepe Avila del Pino; editor: Claudia Castello; music: Jason Isbell; cast: Elaine Hendrix (Diane Spring), Ethan Hawke (Russell Millings), Diane Gaeta (Becca ), Mo McRae (Wilson), Chris Sullivan (Orankle), Betty Gabriel (Deeks), Everly Sucher (Ella), Savannah Sucher (Ella), Nate Mooney (Homeless Man), Jorge Diaz (Internet Cafe Clerk), Christopher Heyerdahl (Jim), Anne-Marie Johnson (Tracy Westmore); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jason Blum, Ethan Hawke, Ryan Hawke, Greg Gilreath, Adam Hendricks, John Lang; RLJE Films; 2019)

“The minimalist screenplay tells us what is obvious and no more about the flawed legal system and those it greatly effects.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film played at SXSW.

The actor Logan Marshall-Green in his feature directing debut presents this slight social conscious drama about a mistake made in one’s youth and the cruel punishment given to its non-violent offender. The minimalist screenplay tells us what is obvious and no more about the flawed legal system and those it greatly effects. The narrative is inspirational but the cliched story could have used a more developed protagonist to make things more poignant. Though its star Ethan Hawke gives a strong assertive performance, he could have used more help from the script.

The quiet, peaceful, forty-something Russell Millings (Ethan Hawke) after serving twenty-five years for possession of an ounce of marijuana, in accordance with California’s now-defunct three-strike law from 1994, has been released early from prison after 22 years and is out in a world that has greatly changed since he was a free man. This is especially so in the field of high tech (thereby dissing the judicial system for not teaching the convicts the needed tech and career skills so they can get work and not return to prison).

Russell works at a dishwasher’s job at a fast-food place and lives alone in a nearby motel room. While coming home from his graveyard shift he finds a baby in the restaurant’s dumpster, with a note attached saying her name is Ella. So he takes the baby home for a few days to feed her (which he believes is the right thing to do and it gives the film some tender moments) and eventually calls the police asking to adopt it. They tell him he must give up the child to the authorities and that his actions of not immediately reporting it were not legal.

Afraid he violated his parole and would be returned to prison, the naive man skips town on a bus and bonds there with a troubled chatty woman, sitting next to him, Diane Spring (Elaine Hendrix).

We follow the saintly but misguided Russell trying to start life over and wonder if he can ever fit into society again after experiencing such a severe injustice and still being so confused. That we care about the main character and are made to wonder about the powers-in-charge who make us live under such Draconian laws, gives this film its moral arc. But its problematic story and preachy Forrest Gump characterization of its protagonist, who despite everything bad that has happened to him still believes people are basically good, makes me give the film a thumb’s down for how shallow and unconvincing is the narrative no matter how well-intended.

Adopt a Highway review

REVIEWED ON 11/5/2019    GRADE: C+