US, Thailand / 91 minutes / color / Dean River, Thai Occidental, Monterey Dir & Scr: Christopher Bessette Pr: Laurie Bolthouse, William Bolthouse, Jim Schmidt Cine: Philip Hurn Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Mira Sorvino, Trieu Tran, John Billingsley, Vithaya Pansringarm, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Guzjung Pitakporntrakul, Jonathan James Isgar, Ashlyn Bellamy.
Noirish in terms of the nightmare it portrays, and the seeming inescapability of that nightmare, this resolutely uncommercial, often clumsily scripted and acted movie somehow manages to build up, by its end, an almost overwhelming level of emotional suspense.
Some years ago, while Alex Becker (Mulroney) was serving in Afghanistan and his wife Claire (Sorvino) was raising their daughter Abigail (Bellamy) back at home in the US, Abigail was seized and, a year later, found murdered, buried in a field. Now Alex, with Claire at his side, is leading an international taskforce in Cambodia aiming to stamp out the abduction of children for brothels serving international—mainly US—sex tourists. The latter are epitomized by visiting US businessman Malcolm Eddrey (Billingsley), a “good family man” who wants to buy the services of children under seven so long as they can be guaranteed “fresh”—i.e., virginal.
While the taskforce’s efforts are aided by a diversity of Cambodians, they must fight against the cultural custom of accepting vile deeds in silence and the local recognition that many rural families are so enmired in poverty that they can see no alternative but to sell a daughter here and there, “for the sake of the others”; this is the attitude of the local police chief, Pakkadey (Boonthanakit), although in the end he comes round to Alex’s viewpoint: that in the rampant child trafficking lies an evil that will eventually destroy Cambodian culture. The traffickers are personified in the form of local boss Duke, a monster depicted by Tran with an evil power that burns from the screen; who can guess why this performance was ignored by the various awards committees?
As noted, though, some of the other acting is lesser. Pansringarm is good as local tuk-tuk driver and taskforce ally Nath and Isgar equally fine as Alex’s Australian assistant Stan, but Mulroney somehow fails to convince as the avenging knight and his woodenness seems to rub off, too often, on Sorvino. The real stars, though, aside from Tran, are the local actors, especially the kids, whose often impassive faces convey more than anything else the horror and the tragedy that’s still unfolding as you read this.
This is a US/Thai coproduction, with much being shot in Thailand with Thai actors. Since the problem depicted is generally associated more with Thailand than any other nation, it seems odd the tale should be offset into Cambodia.
On Amazon.com: Trade of Innocents