Film Review: Trade of Innocents

Raising awareness about a horrifying subject—say, child sex-trafficking—by wrapping it in the skin of an exotic thriller is risky business, and while Trade of Innocents doesn't entirely succeed, you'd have to be a pretty horrible person not

American Alex Becker (Dylan McDermott) heads up an NGO dedicated to ameliorating the plight of Asian girls—from children to adolescents and teenagers—sold into Cambodian whorehouses that serve sex tourists from all over the world by prosecuting the adults who exploit them, including pimps, shills, brothel owners and johns like American businessman Malcolm Edderly (John Billingsley), who's willing to pay thousands of dollars for underage virgins. The girls themselves are a more complicated problem; many are torn between disgust and shame at being sold (or selling themselves) and a sense of responsibility to impoverished family members with no assets worth selling. Group homes like the one at which Alex's wife, Clare (Mira Sovino), volunteers do their best to shelter and rehabilitate child prostitutes who want to live the life, but regularly lose them to the streets.

The elephant casting a long, dark shadow over Alex and Clare's high-minded do-gooding is Abigail, their murdered daughter; she was kidnapped from their own home while Alex was on a tour of duty in Afghanistan and Clare was on the phone. Neither is sufficiently oblivious not to recognize the displacement of personal guilt, grief and anger over failing to safeguard their own child into a quest to rescue wide-eyed lost girls half a world away. But each has made sufficient peace with being a living talking point to continue getting out of bed in the morning and Alex, the more focused of the two, has his sites trained on a vicious pimp who calls himself Duke (Trieu Tran) and swans around the slums looking for budding lotus flowers to please his pedophile clients. But the system thwarts Alex at every turn, especially after his local police liaison is abruptly transferred and replaced by Police Chief Pakkaday (Sahajak Boonthanakit), whom Alex suspects is being paid off to turn a blind eye.

How shocking and/or eye-opening you find Trade of Innocents (which, just by the way, should more properly be called Trade in Innocents) will depend in large part on either your overall engagement with international human-rights issues or how many movies you've seen about (wholly or in part) sex-trafficking, including but not limited to Holly (2006), Trade (2007), Taken (2008), The Whistleblower (2010), Human Trafficking (2005), Sex Trafficking (2009, also starring Mira Sorvino), Eastern Promises (2007), Lilya 4-Ever (2002) and The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009). Again, that's not to fault the message, only to say that Trade of Innocents is a message movie whose only subtlety is found in “True Blood” regular Billingsley's portrayal of Adderly, a sexual predator who actually believes in some twisted way that he loves the children whose childhoods he's destroys. Kudos to him as an actor, but Adderly's smug, hauntingly creepy performance subtly shifts the film's focus in what is clearly an unintended way.