Where Ethan Hawke may not pull the same punches as he did ten years ago, it is reassuring to see he is still a competent leading man. Adopt a Highway gives him that independent spirit that fluttered through earlier encounters with him in Before Sunrise and even pockets of an ill-fated adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Within each Hawke performance is, usually, a real desire to clamour back some simplicity. Whether that is falling in love in Paris or falling out of it in New York. Adopt a Highway offers the stringent roots of simplicity and love, but one that sets off a dangerous and intoxicating series of events that justify its characters with engaging surprises and the surreal nature of prisoners rehabilitating themselves in a world they are out of time with.
It is no surprise that Hawke manages the emotions so well throughout this feature. His portrayal of Russell Millings is touching with or without the obvious connotations of trying to catch up with a new and exciting world. Incarcerated in the 1990s and not quite in touch with the new modernity that has evolved since his time on the inside came to a close, Adopt a Highway is a good unwinding of the technophobe anxiety, the white noise chatter of so much snapping so fast in the mind. Among that white noise in this opening are the confession, the guilt and the rehabilitation of a man now exposed to the outside world for the first time in two decades. Hawke feels like a tremendous spot for that role, not just because he is a likeable face but because the signs of time weigh heavy on the shoulders of a character that needs someone with depth to bring it to life.
Hawke is a natural there, and with some keen direction from Logan Marshall-Green, Adopt a Highway becomes, rather quickly, a very earnest feature. Those sweet impulses that can feature in any person regardless of their past, of passion and kind will, are highlighted properly and entertainingly enough in Adopt a Highway. Marshall-Green is given plenty of time to orchestrate his intentions behind the camera, with considerable focus on the mental strains of a potentially wise and kind individual. Hawke sitting at a table and getting to grips with his life once again shows a startled man being thrown out of a system that was desperate to cut him off from the rest of the world.
What helps Adopt a Highway along even more is that Millings is a man locked up for something that, culturally, is now acceptable. The public and their lawmakers set the standard for what is and is not a corruptible crime or lock-up offence, and the possession of marijuana is a hard one to swallow. Hawke’s flustered performance is both heart wrenching and declarative. It is a bold leading performance from someone who always has it in him to take on these smaller pieces and make them larger than first perceived. Marshall-Green and Hawke both know this is very much their show, but take note of the small characters surrounding them, the little moments that add layers of context and creativity to this feature. They are the details that power through and push Hawke to that next level.