7 February 2007 | larry-411
Powerful message with entertainment value, and it works
I attended a screening of "Trade" at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. All week, films had been relatively disappointing. And then this powerful work came along.
It probably is sufficient to say that its subject is child trafficking, in this case, from Mexico to the US. Audiences will recognize Kevin Kline. The other leads are a 13 year-old girl (Paulina Gaitan) and her 17 year-old brother (Cesar Ramos). The film rests largely on the shoulders of these two innocents, and it's on the basis of their performances, even more than the subject matter, that I consider this a must-see film.
Check out this pedigree. "Trade" was written by Jose Rivera (who wrote "The Motorcycle Diaries"). It is based on a New York Times Magazine article. It was originally supposed to be directed by Roland Emmerich (who wrote, directed, and produced "The Day After Tomorrow"). But Emmerich had a conflict, so he ended up producing it along with Rosilyn Heller (who produced "American Heart," a favorite of mine starring Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong). In turn Marco Kreutzpaintner was hired to direct, a German filmmaker who had a connection to Emmerich through another producer. It was a fortuitous set of circumstances. It's a $12 million indie backed by German funds, Emmerich's own pockets, and Lions Gate, who will be distributing it.
This is quite a moving film and, although it's easy to argue the case, it does not exploit the kids itself in its effort to expose the horrors of child exploitation. While it has some Hollywood moments thrown in for commercial appeal, it's still as compelling as any film I've seen recently. The acting is frighteningly real. A good part of the film is a bit of a road movie where Kline and the boy bond -- he needs a male role model, Kline's life on the road is a lonely existence, you know the drill. Kline's relationship with the boy reminded me of his pairing with Hayden Christensen in "Life as a House." He's good at it, and it's a casting coup that helps put the icing on the cake. The other part of the film focuses on the harsh reality of child trafficking and follows several victims through their ordeals. But Kreutzpaintner's narrative never loses sight of its heartbreaking subject matter.
Director Kreutzpaintner and producer Heller were there for a Q&A. I asked about the casting. He said the boy and girl were found during auditions in Mexico City. He was just the second one they saw. They kept looking, but eventually came back to him. He had never acted before. The girl had done a bit before, but not much. What an auspicious debut. These are two to watch.
There are many "oh my God" moments. It ultimately is a "message" film in that it exposes the horrors of child trafficking, but it's also made for commercial appeal and should resonate with the larger audience. It's hard to pull off this kind of film and make it work. How does one entertain without hitting the viewer with a sledgehammer? It's a delicate balance, and this one weighs in perfectly.