'Adopt A Highway': Ethan Hawke Shines, But Logan Marshall-Green’s Directorial Debut Is A Little Lost [SXSW Review]

As the guy who looks a little bit too much like Tom Hardy, actor Logan Marshall-Green (“Prometheus”) often suffer undue, unfair criticism from facetious, lazy writers (ourselves included; especially when what’s meant to be a dumb joke is taken too seriously) But after finally, and deservedly, breaking through with exciting style in 2018’s surprise smash hit “Upgrade,” he has proved his acting chops and has become a guy to keep an eye on. Usually typecast as the gun-slinging tough guy with a chip on his shoulder, Green takes an unexpected step away from standing in front of the camera and diving head first “Adopt a Highway,” his filmmaking debut as writer/director. However, instead of crafting a story well within his wheelhouse of (paraphrasing) “sex, drugs, violence and rock and roll,” as the director himself put it, Green wanted to embark upon a challenge, putting forth a softer story that spoke to him on a personal level. And while the sentiment is admirable, ‘Highway’ ultimately feels like the product of a first-time director still finding his footing, who maybe should’ve stuck with his bread and butter for this first effort.

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Much like it’s wandering protagonist, Green spends most of the film grappling with what story he wants to tell, and while the premise of an ex-con struggling to assimilate with post-prison life is a constant, ‘Highway’ can very clearly be separated into two incomplete halves. To Green’s credit, his vision for the first section is a remarkably touching— a look at a lost individual who finds purpose by fathering an abandoned newborn only to lose it all as the government gets involved. Watching a shy, soft-spoken and gentle Ethan Hawke learn to care for an infant who was literally tossed into a dumpster is cute enough to melt your heart and serves as a beautiful personal allegory to Green’s own journey into fatherhood. Unfortunately, halfway through, the actor/director veers down a very different path turning what was a sincere and intimate character study into a clichéd and unfocused nomadic soul tale that never quite finds its purpose or recaptures the intrigue of the initial concept.

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On top of that disappointing shift in the story, Green also succumbs to the usual pitfalls of a rookie director. From his longwinded telling of a seemingly straightforward narrative, to the desire to show every action and movement from point A to Point B, to lingering far too long on particular shots, all of this effectively bogs down the pace of an under 1hr and 30min film making for a sluggish story that feels far longer than it truly is. However, those missteps aside, Green does at least manage to make a compelling statement on the injustice of California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law and the importance of second chances, all of which are conveyed beautifully through the introspective and nuanced performance of Ethan Hawke.

Ethan Hawke has clearly been firing on all cylinders lately and continues to shine here, delivering a complex, layered and contemplative performances of another conflicted individual. There is so much sympathy and innocence in the sad eyes of his charact, Russell Millings, a simple introverted man who doesn’t even have an email address— desperately yearning for that second shot at life after carrying out a 20-year prison sentence. The expressions, mannerisms and limited dialogue allow Hawke to give himself to the role adding much-needed depth to a character that otherwise may have felt emptier in lesser hands.

As a directorial debut, Logan Marshall-Green’s “Adopt a Highway” could certainly do worse. It’s watchable and shows promise in a blossoming young talent. It’s easy to admire Green’s decision to tell a personal story that came from the heart, but the end result is, unfortunately, something a little flat, unremarkable and it’s only Ethan Hawke’s terrifically empathetic performance that makes this long and listless journey feel like it’s a road worth taking. [C+]

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