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REVIEW

A 'Trade' issue that crosses the lines

The film, based on an article about the sex-slave business, follows the trail of a Mexican teen and her dogged brother.

September 28, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Globalization and the merchandise moving across international borders in the disturbing drama "Trade" is not the type affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization. There aren't government subsidies to balance exports and imports for these goods. In fact, according to the film, there is very little governmental interference at all.

The commerce depicted here concerns humans, specifically women, girls and boys, abducted through force or coercion by global syndicates, then sold into sex slavery. The U.S. State Department estimates as many as 800,000 people are trafficked internationally each year for purposes of sexual exploitation. Of those, 80% are female and 50% are minors.

This mostly effective dramatization paints a suitably ugly picture of the dehumanizing depths people are willing to go for money. Based on Peter Landesman's New York Times Magazine article "The Girls Next Door," the film tracks the fate of a 13-year-old Mexico City girl snatched off her shiny new bicycle on a quiet urban street and quickly moved north toward the U.S. border.

Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is not alone in her plight. Several Mexican girls, a boy from Thailand and a young Polish mother, Veronica (Alicja Bachleda), are all being funneled to the U.S., where they are to be auctioned off on the Internet as sex slaves. Under the watchful eye of the sadistic Manuelo (Marco Perez), they are drugged, brutalized and, in some cases, raped along the way.

Hot on the trail is Adriana's 17-year-old brother, Jorge (Cesar Ramos), whose gift of the bicycle was financed by his and his buddies' swindling of tourists. More rebellious and headstrong than felonious, Jorge is an otherwise good, intelligent kid who resents his lower-class economic status and doesn't care how he goes about reversing it.

Blind with rage at his sister's kidnappers, he is constantly a step behind and on the verge of losing them when he encounters wayward McAllen, Texas, Det. Ray Sheridan (Kevin Kline) in Juarez. The pair become an unlikely team as they race across the continent to reach Adriana before she is sold in New Jersey.

The film opens with a swooping aerial shot over Mexico City and initially feels like it is going to be a globe-hopping drama of many intertwined stories on the order of "Traffic" or "Babel." Snapping back and forth between Adriana and Veronica's ordeals, young German director Marco Kreuzpaintner ("Summer Storm") inserts a lot of visual and sonic flair into the opening sequences before settling down and letting the actors and José Rivera's screenplay do the heavy lifting.

Rivera, best known for stage plays such as "Cloud Tectonics" and "Marisol," and an Oscar nominee for "The Motorcycle Diaries," contributes persuasive characters and keeps the drama compelling throughout. Bachleda, as Veronica, gives the film's strongest performance, and her protective relationship with frightened young Adriana, whose valuable virginity the captors are careful to preserve, is moving if somewhat predictable.

Sheridan remains enigmatic for much of the film, exposition coming primarily through cryptic phone calls to his wife back in McAllen. It adds a needed sense of mystery to the film and leads to a nicely underplayed scene by Kline in which Ray's motivation for helping Jorge is revealed.

"Trade" works fairly well as a thriller ticking down to Adriana's auction. It's less assured when it strains for some buddy picture chemistry between Ramos and Kline. Though both actors are fine, with Ramos' performance being reminiscent of some of Diego Luna's English-language roles, the attempts at humor to ease the tension between Jorge and Ray and some of the speechifying are out of tune with the rest of the film.

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

"Trade." MPAA rating: R for disturbing sexual material involving minors, violence including a rape, language and some drug content. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. In general release.

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