Inspired by “The Girls Next Door,” a New York Times Magazine article on the U.S. sex trade, Trade is German director Marco Kreuzpaintner’s gritty and ambitious American debut. A young Mexican girl, Adriana, (Paulina Gaitan) is abducted and sold as a slave into the international sex trade, her only friend a Polish girl and fellow captive with a similarly dark fate. Adriana’s brother, Jorge, (Cesar Ramos) and Ray, his Texas cop ally (Kevin Kline), bond in their search for her and other kidnapped girls, including perhaps Ray's own daughter who was forced into the same trade years before.
The graphic depiction of these brutalized young girls — posing as terrified dolls in photographs for their secret internet sex auction and then violated at truck stops on their journey from Mexico to New Jersey — shows the sex trade as an evil social system, to say the least. But Kline’s acting is as disappointing as the stilted narrative. The religious overtones of Adriana as the Virgin, and the shallow dialogues of Ramos’ and Kline’s characters, cannot live up to the horror of the sexualized violence inflicted upon these children. And certainly, the rape and enslavement of youth is a tough narrative not to be moved by—anyone in their right minds watching children used as sex objects would sink in their seats—but you would think Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) could have offered us a more intricate story.
In fact, it is only Gaitan’s tears and true-to-life acting that save the movie from utter hyperbole. But for a film with an agenda to move the viewer into action against such a trade, this may succeed; you will be horrified at what humanity is capable of. If you’re looking for good art that imitates life, however, you might be better off reading the article it was based on.