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Movie Review

How much are we worth?

Five bucks? That's what we'd get if we were sold for scrap—the raw value of the metals and minerals extracted from our essentially worthless husks. More than $40 million? That's what Wired magazine believes our innards would cost scientists in 2003—$23 million for bone marrow, $9.7 million for DNA, and so on. Priceless? That's the value Christians are called to place on humanity.

But there are people—creatures who live in society's darkest corners—who say a person's value is governed by the law of supply and demand: A human is worth what another human is willing to pay.

By that measure, Adriana, a 13-year-old girl from Mexico City, is worth a few thousand dollars. Her kidnappers see her riding her new pink bicycle with a basket in front—a birthday gift from her brother—and they know her youth, her innocence, is worth top dollar. So they chase her down and throw her into the back of their black Mercedes as she screams and kicks and struggles to break free. They leave behind Adriana's shiny new bike, and a thank-you card, too: a card for her brother, drawn in crayon, covered in hearts and smiles.

Veronica, a young, beautiful woman from Poland, is also worth thousands. She's lured to Mexico City with promises of a new life and a new job—in Los Angeles, just hours away across the border. Needing money for her tiny son, she volunteers to go and, when her facilitators ask for her parents' address (just bureaucratic red tape, they explain), she hesitates only a moment. But then when she lands, they take away her passport, and Veronica starts asking questions. "Don't make problems," says one of her captors. "We know where your parents live." They also know all about her little boy—the one they'll kill if she doesn't cooperate.

Two girls vanish from hot, dusty Mexico City—two of countless others—into a rabbit hole of pain, punctuated by rape, humiliation, inhumanity. It's an underground railroad into slavery, not freedom from it, where the girls will be literally sold to the highest bidder.

Positive Elements

When Jorge, Adriana's brother, learns she's been abducted, he wastes no time trying to find her. And he follows her, and them, all the way across the border and finally to New Jersey. He and Ray, an off-duty cop from Texas, discover each other when Jorge stows away in Ray's trunk. And they form an unlikely alliance.

[Spoiler Warning] Jorge is no angel: He "earned" the money for Adriana's bike by robbing American tourists. He's a liar, cheat and, ultimately, a killer. But he loves his sister, blames himself for her disappearance and goes to incredible lengths to rescue her. Ray isn't free from sin, either. He's searching for his long-lost daughter conceived out of wedlock—a daughter he now thinks might have been sold in Mexico. His wife forgives him for the affair. And he begins a half-formed quest to find his daughter, even though his only picture of her was taken years earlier.

Thus, when Ray learns of Adriana, she becomes a surrogate for his own daughter, and the quest to save her becomes all-consuming. He makes an impassioned plea to Federal officials to bust up this human sex trafficking ring before Adrianna's fate is sealed. And when his pleas are apparently ignored, he decides to buy Adriana's freedom with his own money.

Ray thanks his wife for her patience and understanding. She replies, "You shouldn't thank me for loving you, Ray."

Adriana and Veronica, meanwhile, showcase a selfless friendship throughout their shared ordeal. When Veronica's captors tear a photo of Veronica's son in two and brutally rape her, Adriana comforts her: She collects the pieces of the photo and hands them gently to Veronica, who clutches the pieces to her chest. Adriana prods Veronica to eat, too—to not waste away in her dungeon of shock and shame and pain. When Veronica finally gathers herself, she returns the favor by becoming a big sister to Adriana. She tries to protect the girl as much as she can, even offering her own body as a substitute for Adriana's when their captors "rent" out Adriana at a makeshift brothel.

Spiritual Content

Faith is integral to Trade. Roman Catholic, Adriana and her family are deeply religious. Tested beyond all human comprehension, Adriana naturally struggles with her beliefs. And the first time her innocence is horrendously violated, she weeps inconsolably. Mother Mary doesn't love her anymore, she cries.

"Mother always loves you," Veronica says. "Always."

[Spoiler Warning] Veronica, perhaps intentionally, shares the name of a popular saint. And here she becomes something of a martyr. Before throwing herself off a cliff, she turns to her primary captor, Manuelo, and in her halting English tells him, "You pay for this. I make sure."

It seems that she's telling him she'll use the afterlife to serve him with retribution. And Manuelo, a bad guy who also, ironically, is sensitive to matters of God, doesn't miss the implication. So when he stumbles upon Adriana's own final escape attempt, her urgings for him to do the right thing and let her go—"Remember, Veronica is watching you," she tells him—have considerably more effect than one would think.

The Virgin Mary is most often the focus of Adriana's prayers, and her appeals are augmented by a medallion she always wears. About to be sold, she prays, weeping, to a crucifix that hangs over a bed.

We also see Manuelo praying in front of a cross before he and the girls wade across the Rio Grande into Texas. Jorge crosses himself in front of a family shrine before he dashes out to con Americans. He promises in prayer to "never lie again or rob again" if only Adriana is returned to him. And, at the very end of the film, Adriana is reunited with her mother inside a church, during the middle of mass.

Sexual Content

Trade shows one rape in its entirety. And it's brutal. Veronica's captor punches her in the face before he rips off her undergarment and holds her down. As he violates her, we're forced to agonizingly look into her eyes—open but sightless, in shock.

Veronica is raped a second time (offscreen) when she's offered as "payment" to security guards so they'll look the other way.

Barely a teenager, Adriana does not endure this ultimate physical violation, but she does not escape significant sexual abuse. Her captors "rent" her to a man for $80 in an outdoor brothel: Manuelo warns him that Adriana's technical virginity must not be taken. Time is tracked with a ticking egg timer as the man leads her past numerous makeshift enclosures in the weeds, where unspeakable (and largely unseen) acts are taking place. We don't see what happens to Adriana, but we know that, whatever it is, it's horrible: Later that night, Adriana claws at the seat of her captors' van, her eyes vacant and fixed on the roof.

Adriana is compelled to change into more revealing clothes, including a short skirt, and make her pose for a camera. She does so, her dirty face streaked with tears.

These scenes with Adriana and other children are designed to show moviegoers that pedophilia is part and parcel of sex trafficking. A young boy is among the people Manuelo smuggles out of Mexico—a boy later sold to (and rescued from) a pedophile who paid $25,000 for him. Police raid a house in which children were kept locked away in a secret room.

Before his sister is abducted, Jorge lures his tourist prey through promises of sex, wielding brochures full of pictures of naked women. One of Jorge's friends gets hot and heavy—and nearly naked—with a girl in a car. During the film's opening, nude men and women are shown standing in a line—perhaps as a form of political protest. (The women are fully seen from the front, the men from the back.)

Violent Content

Jorge at times is shown as an almost feral punk, bested by anger and a thirst for revenge. When he sees a boy ride down the street with his sister's bicycle, he throws him off and beats him. He beats up a pedophile. And he pummels Manuelo with a tire iron.

[Spoiler Warning] In the final act, Jorge drops Adriana off at church but does not go in himself, instead finding and stabbing his sister's original abductor. Jorge leaves the man to die, turning only when he hears a cry of "Papa!" and sees the abductor's young son standing in the street.

Beyond the brutality of the rape, Veronica's captors hit her in the face several times, and one nearly chokes her to death while forcing her to take a pill. Veronica's final plunge off the cliff, in comparison, is almost peaceful. She runs to the precipice and jumps; the camera lingers on Manuelo's shocked face as he watches her plummet.

A kidnapper grabs a young boy, twists his head and forcibly injects a drug into the struggling boy's neck. Another young Polish woman with whom Veronica arrives in Mexico City is killed when she is graphically struck by a speeding vehicle.

Crude or Profane Language

Characters use the f-word nearly 30 times, and the s-word another five or six. Other milder swears ("a--," "d--n," b--ch") are also used extensively. And the names of God and Jesus are misused at least another half-dozen times. Vulgar references are made to sexual anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

One of the abductors is shown heating up a bent spoon with a lighter, brewing up the drug he injects into the boy's neck. The same man later draws a line of cocaine in his hotel room. The kidnappers also force the girls to take pills.

Jorge and his friends attend a wild party where beer and liquor flows and, in some cases, spills. Ray takes numerous swigs from a liquor bottle in a hotel room. Manuelo smokes.

Other Negative Elements

As mentioned, Jorge is a bad egg. He and his friends mug tourists, and he tells his mother he has a job in the "tourist industry."

But Jorge is cast as a hero compared to most law enforcement. Guards in Mexico are corrupt; the U.S.-led border patrol merely looks uncaring and inept. Manuelo and his captives, including Adriana and Veronica, are apprehended as illegal immigrants after they wade across the Rio Grande. But they're all sent back to Mexico, no questions asked. Even when Veronica tries to tell a guard that they've been kidnapped—in a Polish accent, no less—the guard just sneers at her through the fence.


According to some tacked-on stats at the end of the film, more than 1 million people are trafficked across international borders against their will every year. About 50,000 to 100,000 people are smuggled into the United States. Those figures are based on a 2000 CIA report and subsequent New York Times story and, as a consequence, are outdated. New figures, however, are no less alarming.

According to the U.S. State Department's latest "Trafficking in Persons" report, the International Labor Organization estimates there are 12.3 million people living and working around the globe as virtual slaves. Others estimate the tally going as high as 27 million. About 800,000 moved across international borders in 2006. Millions are trafficked in their own countries. Eighty percent are female; up to half are minors.

Trade is an R-rated film about a subject that can't even be rated: It's a film about filth, and it is filthy. It's a film about depravity, and it is depraved. It's a hard and painful movie to watch. Yet, Trade in some ways is practically Pollyanna. Onscreen, the girl is saved. And at least a few of the bad guys are caught.

Reality is rarely so picturesque. In 2000—the year 50,000 women and children were allegedly sold into the United States—the government prosecuted human trafficking cases involving only 250 victims.

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Kevin Kline as Ray; Paulina Gaitan as Adriana; Alicja Bachleda-Curus as Veronica; Cesar Ramos as Jorge; Marco Pérez as Manuelo


Marco Kreuzpaintner ( )





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Paul Asay

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