Adopt a Highway

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Adopt a Highway Movie Poster Image
Ethan Hawke excels in satisfying drama; some language.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 78 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Recovery and redemption are both possible, but neither come easily and both are fragile. Inspires compassion for underdog ex-felon. Details the devastating effects of long-term prison sentences on young offenders; makes a case against the "three strikes" law that has since been ended in California.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leading character, a recently-paroled felon, is a lost soul: unsocialized, untrusting, despairing. He has few skills and little hope for a future. Over the course of film, it's made clear that he's a kind, compassionate, and gentle soul worthy of a second chance. He's able to find both the internal and external means to change his life. 


Some suspenseful moments regarding both the hero's and abandoned infant's safety.


Instances of "s--t" and "f--k. "


Big Gulp.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hero has served more than 20 years for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Adopt a Highway is an intense, character-driven movie about an emotionally- and socially-stunted man as he attempts to negotiate a world wholly new to him. The movie's hero, a recently-released felon, finds an abandoned infant and the event changes the course of his life. Viewers will take Russell Millings' (Ethan Hawke) journey alongside him. That journey is suspenseful, but there's no violence. A sprinkling of profanity is heard (i.e., "f--k," "s--t"). A character has served more than 20 years for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Messages about recovery, redemption, and the harsh realities of post-prison life are incorporated into the story.

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What's the story?

As ADOPT A HIGHWAY opens, Russell Millings (Ethan Hawke) is released from prison. Convicted as a very young man of possession of marijuana with intent to sell, he has served more than 20 years under what are now questionable "three strikes" laws in California. The now-paroled main character is isolated, friendless, working in a dead-end job, and living on the fringes of life. After finding an abandoned infant in a dumpster ("Ella," identified by a note left with her), Russell hopes to keep his wondrous discovery to himself. However, he soon must face the realities of caring for a baby with his very limited resources. Russell's efforts to keep Ella safe and loved become the center of his life and eventually the key to his recovery. 


Is it any good?

Earnest, mostly successful efforts to tell a contemporary human story, along with an outstanding performance by Hawke and a baby who will win your heart, make this indie well worth watching. First time director Logan Marshall-Green gives his audience every reason to care about his leading character, a victim both of his own youthful recklessness and a flawed judicial system. And if Adopt a Highway wraps up with a bit of questionable plotting (spoiler alert: why the complete estrangement of father and son?), it's just a blip and won't distract from the emotional heft of the material. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the filmmakers' point of view in Adopt a Highway. How do you think these filmmakers feel about the recent "three strikes" laws? How did they portray the lack of resources for recently-paroled or released prisoners? Is it valuable to be aware of a movie's (or filmmakers') point of view? Why or why not? Have you watched movies that helped change your mind about specific issues? 

  • Find out the difference between the film terms "musical score" and "source music." Were you aware of the score in this movie? How did it enrich the story and the characters? 

  • Think about how Ethan Hawke's performance captured the essence of Russell Millings. What methods (i.e., body language, speech rhythms) did he use to convey his character's thoughts and feelings? How did Hawke reveal that Russell had moved forward by the end of the film?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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