Hundreds of thousands of young women have vanished from their everyday lives – forced by violence into a hellish existence of brutality and prostitution. They’re a profitable commodity in the multi-billion-dollar industry of modern slavery. The underworld calls them human traffic…
When a sixteen-year-old girl from the Ukraine, a single mother from Russia, an orphaned seventeen-year-old girl from Romania, and a twelve-year-old American tourist become the victims of international sex slave traffickers, a specialized team of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) struggles to expose the worldwide network that has enslaved them. ICE agent Kate Morozov (Oscar® and Golden Globe® Award winner Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite) knows the horror of sexual exploitation first-hand and is dedicated to dismantling the network and bringing the ring’s kingpin to justice.
From a torture chamber in Queens to the flesh-peddlers of Russia, the hunt is on as the fates of relentless ICE agents, the ruthless traffickers and their defenseless victims collide in a powder keg conspiracy of global proportions.
Featuring Emmy® and Golden Globe® Award winner Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job) and Trainspotting’s Robert Carlyle, Human Trafficking is at once a gripping thriller, a cautionary tale, and one of the most fundamentally important stories of our time.
Human Trafficking 6.75
eyelights: Donald Sutherland.
eyesores: Remy Girard. Isabelle Blais. the sanitized script.
Are you confused? Are you mixing up ‘Human trafficking’ with my earlier blurb, ‘Sex Traffic‘? You’re not alone. For a long time, even I didn’t realize that I had copies of both in my collection; in my mind, they were interchangeable. It was only (somewhat) recently that I discovered that they were separate productions, made by different crews – the former in 2004, and this one in 2005.
‘Human Trafficking’ is the mass market version of ‘Sex Traffic’. It features big U.S. stars, benefited from a large budget, and takes an impoverished, simplistic approach to a subject that should be -at bare minimum- challenging. It’s to reality as “American cheese” is to actual cheese. It’s not to say that it’s terrible, it’s simply that it doesn’t give its subject its just due.
Of course, one has to consider the fact that it was produced by the Lifetime network. This may not be fair, but my impression is that it could only be worse if it had been produced by Hallmark – in which case, ‘Human Trafficking’ might have a ‘The Sound of Music’ quality to it, with the victims all walking away over the hills while singing and holding hands.
That would be lovely.
As a network focused on women, with strong female leads and issues that affect women, the network certainly has my vote – there can never be too much of that. However, this also requires a real-world approach if women want to feel empowered; it’s pointless to show women “heroically” defying cardboard villains and overcoming odds that are stacked in their favour.
And this is pretty much what happens with ‘Human Trafficking’. While it manages to avoid the ‘Pretty Woman’ syndrome, it also avoids any significant impact; it’s as though it were tip-toeing around the issue of human trafficking and sex slavery. Honestly, you can almost watch this show and think that human traffic is not that bad. No worse than drug or weapons smuggling, anyway.
But it does have a female lead.
In the form of Mira Sorvino, we follow an NYPD agent who gets hired as an Immigration and Customs to track down the men behind the deaths of some eastern European prostitutes. While there are three other stories, we eventually discover that the film is about Agent Morozov and her efforts to bring these men to justice – with the help of her boss, played by Donald Sutherland.
Obviously, the well-known North American stars get the glamourous roles. Of course they do. Robert Carlyle gets the role of the villain of the piece, which is proper, but all the other roles are played by lesser-known actors – or, at least, actors and actresses who are less known in the U.S. of A. (ex: Remy Girard and Isabelle Blais are staples of Quebec cinema and television, but not elsewhere).
Not only that, but even though the mini-series begins with four stories in four corners of the world, it all conveniently converges in New York: our accountant/bargirl mom who was kidnapped in Vienna ends up in New York, even befriending the young wannabe model who was kidnapped in Ukraine and conveniently ends up in the same brothel. Obviously, Sorvino comes to their aid: it’s in her backyard.
There’s also a fourth story about a young girl kidnapped in Manila, and who is sent to Thailand. She ends up in a shipping crate on the shores of the United States, of course – but she spends most of the picture languishing in a haze of drugs (we never see her take any, but it’s suggested) while her mom desperately tries to find her. But not her dad, because men are @$$holes.
Frankly, I’m not sure if you could get more clichéd than ‘Human Trafficking’:
- the European characters have names like Elena, Sacha, …etc., as though there were nothing else. I guess they’re familiar names so the writers either grabbed them out of convenience or purposely used them to placate the viewers, give them something that’s not too foreign.
- there are corny inspirational speeches about freedom, hope and empowerment – between characters, in moments that should suggest something more realistic instead of fabricated. There’s even a moralistic closing statement by Sorvino’s character, which only serves as a primer to viewers not already aware of the issue.
- there were tons of violins. In fact, the score is principally composed of violins, as though pulling at the heartstrings were necessary. But perhaps it was: the film is sanitized enough that we can’t feel the story’s impact – so the weeping violins serve as a reminder that things are dire. lest we forget.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Furthermore, the film is contrived as all get out. For example:
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
It doesn’t help of course, that there is some paltry casting. Most notably, I found Isabelle Blais unconvincing as a Czech (was it her accent, or just her performance? Not sure…) and I didn’t buy that Remy Girard was an ex-soldier – I mean, just watching him struggle to run was indicative of how unfit he was for the part. And that doesn’t account for the fact Sorvino, our lead is quite average here – as is most of the cast.
Based on comments on the imdb, a large number of American viewers seem to have appreciated this whitewashed account of the sex trade at its darkest. I suppose that Lifetime’s decision to sanitize it was ultimately a fortuitous decision (the series was nominated for and even won awards!), but I believe that this show didn’t do the viewing public any favours. Nor did it do its real-life victims justice.
Date of viewing: August 26, 2013