Hollywood franchises like Taken use human trafficking as the back drop for their car chases and gun fights. A thread in my own writing explores the impact of sexual slavery as part of the overall narrative. While films like Taken don’t raise the overall awareness of modern slavery they do acknowledge its existence. A much smaller independent film tackles the same subject with more sensitivity and fewer explosions. Trade of Innocents explores the complexity of the subject but its refusal to make hard narrative choices prevents the story from being truly satisfying.
The main story revolves around a former US military officer and his wife who have just relocated to Cambodia. The couple has recently lost their daughter to a pedophile kidnapper and now they are travelling around the world trying to prevent other children from being sold into sexual slavery. In their struggle to stop the pimp in a particular town the couple runs into corruption within the police department, villagers fearful of reprisals, cultural bias against girls, extreme poverty and American pedophiles that will pay any amount of money to rape children. They also have to come to terms with the loss of their own child. The strain that their daughter’s death puts on the wife and on their relationship could have been a problem more emotionally draining than fighting systemic prostitution.
Unfortunately, the traditional Hollywood movie structure hijacks this film and drains most of the life out of it. The conflict between the couple is conveniently resolved without any real effort. There are chase scenes and fist fights that don’t need to be there. The characters that you do care about never feel like they are in any real danger and the climactic opportunity for growth in the wife’s character is replaced by a predictable hero coming to save the day.
The most powerful and nuanced performance of the film is in the subplot of the American pedophile. We learn more about the root causes of sexual slavery and the depths of its perversion from this side story than in any platitude or tearful revelation of the main story. If Trade of Innocents explored more of this world it could have been a much better film. As it stands, it is a more thoughtful version of Taken even if it isn't executed as well.