Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sex trafficking, again, via Yan Vizinberg's bizarre, two-hander road-trip -- CARGO

Who are these people? Usually, in movies about the sex trafficking trade, that question is asked regarding the nasty, brutish men who first kidnap and then abuse and finally destroy or sell their captive women. In Yan Vizinberg's new "take" on the trade, CARGO, the question is asked once again -- but this time not about these vicious guys (we're clearly growing used to them) but about the pair of characters who becomes the focal point of the movie: the young, kidnapped and, yes, abused Russian girl and the Egyptian Muslim driver who is transporting her from Mexico to her "buyer" in Brooklyn.

Mr. Vizinberg, shown at left, doesn't give us anything new in his opening scenes. If you've seen even one of these sex-trafficking films (from the much-better Trade to the more recent The Whistleblower), you'll know exactly what's going on each step of the way. And perhaps you'll be surprised that our heroine (played by Natasha Rinis, below) is so utterly clueless. Well, she does appear to be a sheltered mama's girl with little experience of the world. Still, hasn't she seen a movie or two along the way? Every move she makes, initially, at least, seems about as dumb as they come.

Ditto her driver (Sayed Badreya, below) whose first on-screen moment of importance indicates some decency to the character -- which would go against every other man we've seen so far. How, we wonder did he get a job with these people? All right: We don't quite believe these two from the get-go, but, hey -- let's give 'em a chance. We do. And they blow it. Repeatedly.

At this point, I should make clear that it is not the performances at fault here. Ms Rinis and Mr. Badreya do all they can with their really too-silly characters. The blame must fall on Vizinberg, who both wrote (pretty badly) and directed (a lot better) the movie. He has created false characters and then, in attempting to make them truer, made them even less believable. Once the girl and the driver begin unburdening themselves of their history, we begin question-ing things even more. Then, a little later, they unburden all over again -- at which point viewer manipulation goes off the charts, leading to a finale that wins the ludicrous award for the season.

The only other character of note in the film is the villain, played by Phillip Willingham (above) with proper, hiss-able relish. The film ends with yet another meaningless statistic on the number of incidents of sex trafficking each year. We don't need another statistic. We need one truthful, well-told tale of sex-trafficking. Trade, despite some faults, came closest, and that was nearly five years ago (it made its debut at Sundance in 2007). It's time for another, but Cargo isn't up to the task.

The film opened yesterday here in New York City at the Quad Cinema.  I can find no other currently scheduled theatrical playdates, but perhaps a DVD (or some streaming) is in the offing.

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