Friday 24 September 2021

Movie Review: Trade (2007)

A hard-hitting drama, Trade is an unblinking story of sex trafficking. The nightmare of two victims is presented as harrowing journey fuelled by criminal depravity.

In Mexico City, 17-year-old Jorge (Cesar Ramos) is involved in low-level lawlessness with his buddies. But his world is turned upside down when his 13-year-old sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitán) is kidnapped by Russian sex traffickers working for vicious crime leader Vadim (Pasha D. Lychnikoff). Jorge tracks the kidnappers from a distance and learns Adriana will be transported into the US with New Jersey as the final destination.

While investigating a house used by the traffickers, Jorge bumps into Ray Sheridan (Kevin Kline), a Texas-based insurance fraud investigator. After an acrimonious introduction, Jorge and Ray team-up to search for Adriana, and uncover a sexual slavery marketplace.

Also being trafficked with Adriana is Polish single mom Veronica (Alicja Bachleda). They are escorted across the border by gang member Manuelo (Marco Perez), who is joined on the US side by driver and drug addict Alex Green (Zack Ward). The two victims endure horrible abuse with worse to come unless Jorge and Ray can improvise a rescue.

Produced by Roland Emmerich and based on the 2004 New York Times article "The Girls Next Door" by Peter Landesman, Trade is a challenging experience. German director Marco Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera confront the subject matter head-on, creating a bold and uncomfortable drama largely devoid of thriller cliches. The hurt inflicted upon Adriana and Veronica is unrelenting, the perpetrators treating their victims like commodities to be exploited, transported, marketed and sold, the industry demand propelled by faceless middle-aged men hiding behind wealth and web portals.

Because the victims are everyday girls and women like Adriana and Veronica with no support from influential advocates, the sex trade thrives in the shadows. Here the casting of relative unknowns is effective: both Paulina Gaitán as young Adriana and Alicja Bachleda as Veronica are excellent in their roles, and their inconspicuousness allows them to represents multiple victims and ethnicities from two continents. Thrust together into a hell on earth, the unspoken bond that develops between the two kidnap victims is a flicker of warm humanity. 

Meanwhile Ray and Jorge are forging their own connection. The emerging but thorny father/son dynamic between the Texas investigator and scrappy Mexican teen sparks a few moments of levity. Gradually Ray reveals his backstory and personal tragedy related to a lost family member, allowing man and teen to share a common hurt only differentiated by degrees of recency. 

Despite registering some victories, Trade deliberately aims at mixed and morally vague resolutions, and intentionally places the victims themselves in positions to attempt patchwork and sometimes disastrous fixes. With sex trafficking low on the list of human-made crises receiving attention, large scale silent agonies will persist.

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