Will Wallace’s thriller about three young women abducted and sold into sex slavery certainly has an authentic feel. As well it should: The screenwriter, Siddharth Kara, is a Harvard professor specializing in the subject who wrote a book that inspired the film. Unfortunately, for all its social relevance and good intentions, Trafficked mainly proves that university professors don’t make the best screenwriters.
As if dutifully checking items off a list, the film’s storyline focuses on three disparate victims from different parts of the world: the Nigerian Mali (Jessica Obilum), a young mother captured while attempting to migrate to Europe; the Indian Amba (Alpa Banker), whose plan to attend university in America is violently shattered; and the American Sara (Kelly Washington), betrayed by a seemingly helpful social worker (Ashley Judd) who turns out to be in cahoots with sex traffickers. All three women wind up in a Texas brothel run by Simon (Sean Patrick Flanery), whose outward courtliness doesn’t prevent him from treating his captives brutally when necessary.
Although not particularly graphic, the film unflinchingly depicts the violence perpetrated by the traffickers, such as when we see them shoot a woman in the back as she desperately tries to flee. The logistics of the evil operation are conveyed in vivid, believable fashion. Unfortunately, the one-note characterizations and ham-fisted dialogue prove less impressive, such as when one of the kidnappers, eyeing a young, innocent-looking captive, instructs her underlings, "Take her to the Virgin Room," adding that she’ll be "perfect for the Japanese man." And the flashbacks depicting the three central characters’ lives before they were captured are tediously banal.
The importance of the subject matter no doubt attracted the several well-known actors in the cast to the low-budget project. But their presence often proves distracting. When Anne Archer shows up as a nun or Patrick Duffy as a sleazy politician, you mainly find yourself wondering what they’ve been up to lately. And sorry, but Judd just isn’t convincing playing a villain. It’s understandable that she wanted to play against type, but in this case suspension of disbelief proves impossible.
Trafficked proves reasonably effective for educational purposes, with statistics and information about how to help inevitably projected during the end credits. But as a thriller it’s plodding and predictable, not distinguishing itself from the seemingly endless other movies dealing with the subject that have been released in recent years. The torrent of such fare is beginning to feel not so much enlightening as exploitive.
Production companies: Habitat Media Group, Eliza Kay Productions, KK Ranch, Miramar Media Entertainment, WeatherVane Productions
Distribution: Epic Pictures
Cast: Ashley Judd, Anne Archer, Patrick Duffy, Elisabeth Rohm, Sean Patrick Flanery, Brian Thompson, Efren Ramirez, Jason London, Madison Wolfe, Kelly Washington, Jessica Obilom, Alpa Banker, Nikki Koss
Director: Will Wallace
Screenwriter: Siddharth Kara
Producers: Siddharth Kara, Conroy Kanter
Executive producers: Frank Mayor, Adam Ambruso, Joe Dante, Elizabeth Stanley
Director of photography: Thomas L. Callaway
Production designer: Jean-Jacques Calabrese
Editor: Justin Thomas Billings
Composer: David Das
Costume designer: Kris Deskins
Rated R, 104 minutes