Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BFF: Trade

I like Kevin Kline a lot, so it feels kind of odd to realize that he has not, in fact, been on the shelf for a few years. The IMDB lists him in three films last year, and while it's my own fault that I missed A Prairie Home Companion, I had purged The Pink Panther from my brain and totally forgotten that someone was sitting on him in As You Like It directed by Kenneth Branagh. That's going directly to video, which really annoys the heck out of me.

Ah, well. That ship has sailed. At least this one's seeing theaters.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #18 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

Trade plays pretty rough, which is as it should be. If it didn't, it could easily become just a suspense story that offers a thrill of horror rather than a nasty bit of business with just enough familiar trappings to pull the audience along. As it is, it's kind of on the line, probably a nice place for this movie to be: It gets the audience angry but doesn't quite send them running for the exits.

We start in Mexico City, where Jorge (Cesar Ramos) has given his sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) a bicycle for her 13th birthday. Jorge has not earned the money for this gift honestly, by any means, but his crimes are nothing compared to the Russian gangsters who snatch her off the street. She's thrown in a room with Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a Polish girl who chose the wrong people to help her find work in America. Jorge is able to track his sister to Juarez, near the Texas border, and it's there that he meets up with Ray Sheridan (Kevin Kline), a detective with his own personal reasons for tracking this ring of sex traffickers.

Kevin Kline is the first person billed, but he doesn't actually appear until about a half hour into the movie; that belongs to Cesar Ramos, Paulina Gaitan, and Alicja Bachleda-Curus. We get a sense of just what easy pickings the kidnappers' targets can be, and what kind of corruption anyone fighting them has to deal with, in multiple senses of the word. Sometimes a scene will seem ja little less smothered by the smog-filled skies of Mexico City, especially if it involves Adriana, pre-kidnapping, but once things go bad, it's relentless.

And then Kevin Kline shows up. In some ways, he's sort of the wrong guy for this film, though that's not necessarily the fault of anything he does here. It's that he's Kevin Kline, and even if he's not a big enough star to get a big audience into a movie these days, people know what that means. For example, when he showed up at the end of Orange County, every other role he'd ever played let the audience know what this guy was about as soon as they saw him. Here, even though he plays Ray as a bit arrogant and at times short-tempered, and handles the parts of the script that should make the audience question Ray's motivations exactly the way he should... He's Kevin Kline; we like him too much, and the movie doesn't do as much to exploit that as it could.

An example of how he hits every note right is how he manages to avoid turning Trade into a buddy-cop-type film, even if the plot does revolve around two opposites joining forces and getting under each other's skin. He's got a lot of help there from Cesar Ramos; what could be jokes come out just as angry as they should. He does a nice job of establishing that Jorge has not been a good kid by any means, but can still become something other than a monster. He holds his own in his scenes with Kline, playing intense but not in a way that makes Kline's even delivery look weak or too steady. Linda Emond works well with Kline, too, although they spend most of the movie talking over the phone.

The actors in the other group are pretty good, too, although they're playing more familiar types. Paulina Gaitan spends most of the movie terrified as Adriana after a few scenes in the beginning to establish that she's a nice, innocent kid. Alicja Bachleda-Curus is mostly charged with taking abuse, trying to be smart and tough enough to look after Adriana. Marco Perez's Manuelo is an interesting character; charged with getting the sex-slaves-to-be from Juarez to New Jersey, there's often a look of unease on his face as he pimps his "packages" out, but he doesn't hesitate to beat or debase them.

Director Marco Kreuzpaintner keeps things moving, and manages to get tension out of such unexciting things as an online auction. He's got a knack for finding creepy moments, both expected and not. He's a little hamstrung by Jose Rivera's script, which has one or two too many convenient coincidences - Cesar happens to see the kidnappers, he and Ray are at the same place at the same time, etc. It's probably not more than most films, but lucky breaks feel out of place in this story.

The movie isn't all lucky breaks, and the message certainly isn't that everything tends to work itself out. There needs to be some hope to the story - otherwise people are walking out and telling people not to go - but only a little, lest the message get lost.

Also at eFilmCritic.

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