A 13-year-old girl (Paulina Gaitan) is grabbed off the streets of Mexico City; a young Polish mother (Alicja Bachleda) is lured out of her country by a bogus nanny agency set up by the Russian Mob. Both are drugged, one is raped, and they are then dragged on a back-roads journey up to the United States, their identities snuffed, their paths all but impossible to trace. The evil captured by the journalistic thriller Trade begins with a clear-eyed account of the terrors of sex trafficking. It ends disturbingly close to home: in New Jersey, where that girl is placed in a cozy-looking house on a tree-lined block, as her virginity is auctioned off via the Internet to the highest bidder.
It’s one thing to ”accept” prostitution as an ugly but routine fact of human society. It’s quite another to confront that there are now brothels, nestled all over middle-class America, in which young women, often underage, are imported as slaves. Trade, based on a New York Times Magazine story, chronicles that evil with unblinking detail. To watch the movie, however, you have to swallow a more necessary evil, which is the echt Hollywood story of Jorge (Cesar Ramos), the girl’s teenage hothead brother, and Ray (Kevin Kline), the Texas lawman who teams up with him to help get her back. Kline gives a quiet, mournful, and effective performance, but too much of his rescue mission is too contrived to believe. As a movie, Trade is so-so, but as an exposé of how the new globalized industry of sex trafficking really works, it’s a disquieting, eye-opening bulletin. B-