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Freeway (1996) and Hard Candy (2005)


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While reading about Reese Witherspoon's wonderful performance in Election, I read many reviewers remark on her performance in Freeway. While reading about Ellen Page's compelling performance in Juno, I read many reviewers remark on her performance in Hard Candy. I recently saw both movies, and since they're similar in many ways, I thought I'd write about both of them.

Freeway is a modern-day retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood." The "deep dark woods" is a freeway through Los Angeles, the big bad wolf is Bob Wolverton, an initially charming sexual predator played by Keifer Sutherland. Grandma's house is located in a trailer-park near Stockton, and the helpful woodsman is a pair of LAPD detectives who aren't actually all that helpful at all. And "Red", portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, is Vanessa Lutz, the illiterate child of a prostitute mother and a career-criminal step-father.

Vanessa's life pretty much sucks. After the police round up two of the worst parents ever put on film, Vanessa decides that she's not going back to foster care and escapes from the child welfare official. She hatches a plan to live with her grandmother, and sets out, little red basket and all, for Stockton. The dilapidated family car breaks down on the freeway, but she's picked up by Bob Wolverton, a helpful guidance counselor. She spills her heart to Bob, but soon discovers that Bob is actually the prostitute-killng predator she's heard about on the news. Things fall apart in a hurry.

Vanessa is about as smart as a piece of toast, but she has an innate cunning. She also has serious anger management issues, a real gift for physical violence, and a strangely noble morality. Reese Witherspoon here is truly brilliant, creating a character who feels completely convincing, despite the absurdly over the top story.

Nine years after Vanessa Lutz and Bob Wolverton clashed in Freeway, another girl clashes with a sexual predator in Hard Candy. Jeff Kohlver (portrayed by Patrick Wilson, recently seen as Dan Dreiberg in The Watchmen) is a smooth-talking, sophisticated photographer who seems to be awfully interested in adolescent girls. Hayley Stark, as portrayed by Ellen Page, is a 14 year old he's met in an internet chat room.

Jeff is a sexual predator who might just be a murderer too. Hayley is a precocious child who might just be a complete psychopath. Ellen Page is amazing in this movie. She goes from quirky Juno McGuff charm all the way to being such a monster that she might actually be more evil than Jeff. She makes her lovable bundle of adolescent angst into a pure terror, as scary a movie monster as I've seen.

Witherspoon was just 20 when she starred in Freeway, Page just 17 when she appeared in Hard Candy. Both deliver performances that make their immense talents undeniable. The similar subject matter and the awesome starring performances of the young actresses make some sort of comparison appropriate, but they differ completely in where they take the viewer.

Freeway is, essentially, a comedy. One can't help being charmed by Vanessa, for all her warts. One can't help being entertained by the over-the-top antics. There's nothing overly challenging here... it's kind of an urban adventure story, following the misadventures of a unique character portrayed by a terrific actress.

Hard Candy is, essentially, a horror movie. It's a one hour and forty minute experiment in finding out how far you're willing to go, how far you're willing to allow your strings to be pulled and how hard you're willing to have your buttons pressed. This movie will pull your strings and press your buttons awfully hard. It's probably the most upsetting and unsettling thing I've ever seen. Sitting here days later, I can say I have tremendous respect for the calibre of the performances, and the skill in creating the atmosphere and tension, and in creating the moral dilemna that the viewer experiences as they watch this. It's a brilliant piece of work. But for all that, it's also a horrid little movie and I wish I hadn't seen it.


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Hard Candy is, essentially, a horror movie. It's a one hour and forty minute experiment in finding out how far you're willing to go, how far you're willing to allow your strings to be pulled and how hard you're willing to have your buttons pressed.

I haven't seen Freeway but I saw Hard Candy. It was an independent movie that took off based on strong writing but the original producers didn't want to give it a huge budget based on the material. It was only after Canadian producer Lion's Gate snapped it up that it got wide distribution.

Page was picked for the role based on her strong performance in Wilby Wonderful, a Canadian film the year before.

I thought the script was brilliant and the direction made it roll right along despite the limited sets and cast.

Like a lot of independent films, it makes for a good entertainment but usually once seen, it isn't something you have to see over and over again.

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