Throwback Reviews: Reese Witherspoon Peaked With ‘Freeway’ Before We Even Knew Her [Opinion]

By the time Reese Witherspoon was a household name, her best work was already behind her.

Kevork DjansezianI / Getty Images

By the time Reese Witherspoon was a household name, her best work was already behind her.

Is it really so uncommon for an actor to have made such amazing work before becoming a headline-grabber? Not at all.

Brad Pitt played Early Grace, one of the more revolting ’90s cinematic psycho-killers, in a largely unknown 1993 film called Kalifornia. Later he’d play Louis in Interview With The Vampire and Detective David Mills in Se7en, only then to be discovered by audiences across the world and adored for the remainder of his life.

Similarly, a widely ignored movie called Freeway came out in 1996. The movie featured Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland in what were probably meant to be starring roles, but they kind of took a back seat to the unrelenting profanity the movie hurls in every direction.

Truth be told, the graphic language of Freeway is part of its charm. Movie critics across the web likely claim to enjoy Freeway in spite of its gratuitous usage of horrific language. I object to such condescending notions because if you remove offensive language from the movie Freeway, you’ve got about 12 minutes of collective running time.

You either love the profane nature of Freeway, or you don’t like the movie; there is no “in spite of.”

Freeway is about a young teenage girl named Vanessa Julia Lutz — I assure you, you won’t forget her full name after watching the movie — portrayed by a then-unknown Reese Witherspoon.

  Vince Bucci / Getty Images

Reese went on to make some other great movies with great roles, Walk The Line comes to mind, but she never again rocked a role like she did as Vanessa Lutz. Vanessa far transcends being a badass. She will kill anyone she deems it necessary to kill, with little hesitation. However, and this is important, she’s not really the kind of person who enjoys killing, she just has principles.

If you’re polite to Vanessa, she’ll be polite back. Her character is very kind when presented with kindness. On the other hand, when presented with rude comments or threats, she becomes rather unpredictable, unless you’re good at predicting savage violence.

Kiefer Sutherland plays a man named Bob who picks up a runaway Vanessa and, well, he has intentions that could be described as “less than pure.” Bob is something of a serial killer, among other things. Don’t feel too sorry for Vanessa. In fact, feel sorry for Bob, Vanessa is no one’s victim.

Vanessa asks Bob a few times if he accepts Jesus Christ as his lord and personal savior because she wants him to get into heaven, Vanessa really does have a good heart. Then she shoots him in the head, which doesn’t entirely kill him, so she keeps at it for a while.

She’s later arrested while covered in blood, though assuring the cop she did nothing wrong and awaits trial.

“Officer, I did nothin’ wrong. I DID NOTHIN’ WRONG!”

Just kidding, Vanessa doesn’t “await” anything. She bashes people’s head in, cuts people up, fashions a shank out of a toothbrush, Vanessa does what Vanessa has to do to survive.

She’s not well spoken, in fact, she can barely read, and her way with profanity is a thing of legend among writers. That said, she’s extremely smart, resourceful as anyone can be, given her situation, and absolutely incapable of being taken advantage of.

I first saw Freeway as a 12-year-old boy, circa 1997. It was on HBO in the middle of the night. It must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:00 a.m., and I sat up and watched this strange, somewhat-offensive film, loving every second of it. Adult supervision was scarce in my home, so movies like Freeway were options even at 12. Thank God.

John Waters is a fan of ‘Freeway,’ and he knows good movies. Jason Merritt / Getty Images

This predates the advent of digital cable, at least, in my decidedly blue-collar home. My television was still analogue at the time, and as such, I had no idea what the name of the movie was. Which was fine, I could just look up Kiefer Sutherland on IMDb. Oh, wait, no computer either. Yeah, I just had to wait. I watched it in 1997, and it wasn’t until 2001 that I finally saw Freeway again. I’d all but given up my search, with video stores seemingly turning up empty. One day, while sitting in the home of two considerably dangerous young men and conversing about a new rapper by the name of Eminem, they put on a movie, just to have on in the background.

I immediately freaked out and started asking the name of it. They informed me the movie was called Freeway.

Soon after, I bought the movie and have probably watched it 49 times since. It’s not a movie I bring up often, or to many people, because it’s a little bizarre and a lot profane, so it’s difficult to recommend. Occasionally, I come across a fellow fan. There’s a strange kind of knowledge among fellow Freeway fans, like we have some kind of secret together. We’re aware of one of the all-time greatest movies that no one else is aware of. Furthermore, we know where the argument begins and ends in terms of Reese Witherspoon acting performances.

Pink Flamingos and Hairspray director John Waters is a huge fan, which should tell you a lot, and ReelViews almost gave it a high enough score, if you’re into scoring things.

Since I’m no longer in the business of scoring films or albums, after officially retiring scores with my review of Death Grips’ newest album Year of the Snitch, I’ll just say that Freeway is a truly strange, graphic movie, and also a lot of fun.

It used to be a movie I loved but recommended to no one. Now it’s a movie I still love but recommend to everyone over the age of 18.

In retrospect, 12 was a little young.