DVD Release Date:  January 29, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  September 28, 2007 
Rating:  R (for disturbing sexual material involving minors, violence including a rape, language, and some drug content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  119 min.
Director:  Marco Kreuzpaintner
Actors:  Kevin Kline, Paulina Gaitan, Cesar Ramos, Alicja Bachleda, Kate del Castillo, Tim Reid, Pavel Lychnikoff

Trade, an uneven drama about human trafficking, deserves begrudging respect for raising the public’s awareness of an uncomfortable subject. Noble in its intentions, and often effective in its depiction of this human horror, the film nevertheless suffers from awkward melodrama and feeble dialogue, particularly when it departs from the unremittingly grim subject matter at the heart of its story.

Therein lies the difficulty in recommending the film: Its strongest element is also its most unsavory, its most difficult to watch. But Trade provides a public service in highlighting a degrading practice, even when the film’s plot strains credibility.

Kevin Kline stars as Ray, a cop who works with a young Mexican, Jorge (Cesar Ramos), to rescue Jorge’s sister, Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), from the shadowy world of sex trafficking. Although Kline gets top billing as Ray, the movie belongs to Ramos and his portrayal of Jorge, a young ruffian who, in the opening moments of the film, gives Adriana a bicycle on her 13th birthday before returning to his life as a budding criminal. When Adriana is kidnapped by two men who hope to sell her to the highest bidder, Jorge pursues her captors, determined to take his sister back home.

Adriana is taken under the wing of Veronica (Alicja Bachleda), a Polish woman who’s left behind her young son to find a better life in America, only to end up a prisoner with Adriana. She proves to be a thorn in the side of the men tasked with transporting the girls from Mexico to New Jersey, where ringleader Laura (Kate del Castillo) waits to mediate the final purchase of the women.

Jorge’s improbable ability to track the kidnappers brings him into contact with Ray, who, after initial suspicion, volunteers to help him rescue Adriana. The banter between the two male leads, though not always as amusing as screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) intends, brings some respite from the unrelieved grimness of the film to that point. Much less successful are efforts to sketch out Ray’s background as a father in search of an out-of-wedlock child presumably sold into the sex trade years earlier.

Religion—in the form of Catholic observance, answered prayers, and personal transformation—also is crucial to the plot, but manifests in ways that may seem a stretch even to the most sympathetic viewers of Trade.

The film’s effective conclusion of Adriana’s story brings to mind Psalm 10:17: “Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will listen to their cries and comfort them.” Sadly, in one of the most woeful artistic choices of the young century, a tacked-on ending undermines much of what has come before, clouding any goodwill that less demanding viewers may have built up during the film. It also brings to mind another Psalm: “The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates everyone who loves violence.” (11:5)

The film’s greatest challenge is to remind us that our “enemies”—the people who engage in this heinous crime—are the most in need of our prayers. “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  (Matthew 5:44). Trade reminds us how challenging Jesus’ commands can be, even when the film itself settles for a form of justice that can’t be defended.

Questions or comments about this review? Contact Christian Hamaker at crosswalkchristian@earthlink.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; lots of profanity, including several degrading comments about women
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Drug intake, both forced and voluntary; drinking
  • Sex/Nudity:  Pictures of naked women; several men’s buttocks are shown; a couple has sex in a car; in a field, several men engage in sexual activities with trafficked women; Internet bidding for female victims; discussion of an extramarital affair
  • Violence:  Girl hit by a car lays motionless in the street; young women are kidnapped in order to be sold; choking and punching; a rape; vomiting; reckless driving; families of female victims are threatened; victims are drugged, including via injection into a young boy’s neck; suicide; a stabbing.
  • Religion:  Catholic practices are discussed and exhibited.