Trade (Germany/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Trade is a straightforward and uninspired look at the sex trade, where girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. To its credit, the film avoids titillation but, at the same time, it is so full of moral outrage that there's no sense of drama. The movie takes a strict black-and-white view of human beings, dividing them into three categories: heroes, villains, and victims. In this production, everyone is one of the three. When a cookie-cutter bad guy strays into a gray area late in the film, his actions are inexplicable based on his previous behavior but necessary to the narrative's resolution. Trade as a whole is like that: the characters are uniformly uninteresting and the plot can only labor forward because of contrivances.

Trade opens with a three-pronged storyline, all branches of which begin in Mexico. There's the young Polish woman Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), who has come across the ocean thinking she's on her way to a better life. She becomes suspicious when her guide demands that she give up her passport, but by then it's too late. Jorge (Cesar Ramos), a Mexican youth, is desperate to find his 13-year-old sister, Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), who is kidnapped in broad daylight off a street. Finally, Ray (Kevin Kline), a gringo cop, is in Mexico chasing a phantom the nature of which is not made clear until late in the film. Eventually, Ray and Jorge's paths intersect and they head together to New Jersey where Veronica and Adriana are set to be auctioned off over the Internet to the highest bidder.

As social commentary, Trade offers the right message - condemning the sex trade industry and showing how women are duped, drugged, and terrorized into submitting. But the characters are two-dimensional and the story isn't compelling. One suspects the salient aspects of Trade might have been better presented as a documentary. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner distances the audience from his characters, disallowing an emotional connection that would give the tragic circumstances power. This is in contrast to Lukas Moodysson's similarly themed Lilya 4-Ever, which delivered a punch to the gut. Features about subject matter like this can be devastating if made right. Trade is too cold in its approach and contrived in its plot to achieve any real weight.

Trade's "star," Kevin Kline, is not the lead. That role is filled by Cesar Ramos, whose overcooked performance as Jorge borders on being unintentionally laughable. It's not good acting and it makes this supposedly obsessed, suffering character seem like a buffoon. In contrast, Kline's low-key, intense portrayal is a clinic on how to function in a dark movie like this. There are times when his professionalism counterbalances Ramos' overacting. The problem with Ray is the character's back story which, when revealed, is a disappointment. We're expecting something sadder and more complex than what the script provides. Both actresses, Alicja Bachleda-Curus and Paulina Gaitan, are credible. They aren't given enough screen time to get to us on an emotional level and they're stuck in generic scenes of abuse and torment whose sole function is to display how horrific the experience is for its victims. Once again, that's laudable from a social standpoint but it's dramatically ineffective.

One would expect a movie like Trade to be described as "joyless," since it's not about a happy subject, even though the ending tries to be upbeat. Trade's crime isn't that it's dark or that it provides graphic depictions of rape and abuse, but that we never feel anything for any of the characters. The film isn't only joyless, it's lifeless. With a movie of this sort, the viewer expects to undergo something grueling and disturbing. Trade's inability to deliver that sort of visceral experience makes it unworthy of anyone's hard-earned dollars.

Trade (Germany/United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:59
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Drugs)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1