Friday, September 28, 2007


Inspired by the New York Times Magazine cover story “The Girls Next Door” by Peter Landesman, the film follows the process of kidnapping, torture, transport, sexual abuse, and selling of young girls for profit.

The film begins with the kidnapping of Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), a 13 year-old girl from Mexico, and Veronica (Alicja Bacheleda-Curus), a young woman from the Baltic States. They are taken by force to an unknown location and then put in the pipeline to be sold with others as sex slaves. We watch their journey from Mexico, into the United States, and to New Jersey where they will be sold.

The other part of the story concerns American cop Ray (Kevin Kline) and Adriana’s brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) who team-up to try and rescue his sister.

The film is full of disturbing scenes including the brutal rape of Veronica and highly suggestive scenes involving Adriana and girls and boys her age performing sex acts on the side of the road for money. There are also scenes in which the girls are forced to change and pose provocatively for the camera, forcibly drugged, and beaten. I honestly don’t know how this film avoided an NC-17 rating, which it justly deserves; it’s certainly not a film for the squeamish.

The performances are all good with Bechleda-Curus and Gaitan being the best of the bunch. Both are strong and Gaitan is a terrific young actress who is asked to do some seriously adult work here. I hope she stays with this acting thing because she is someone to watch. Ramos also does a good job in reacting to a situation that spins his entire reality out of control. It’s through his eyes initially where we feel the first real terror and urgency of each moment.

The men who kidnap and hold them (Zack Ward, Marco Perez, Pavel Lychnik) are also worth noting, although at times the film turns them comes dangerously close to turning their characters into cliches, from Maneulo’s odd behavior shifts to the the total wickedness of the other two. Kate Del Castillo has a role of a woman involved in the operation who is so evil and screwed-up she might as well be wearing a pointy hat and riding a broomstick.

The film also has some trouble in its storytelling. Late in the film there appears to be an entire sequence of shots and scenes missing dealing with the other girls in the party. There’s also Maneulo’s (Perez) odd choices and behavior changes, and an all too happy Hollywood ending. Also worth noting is the artistic juxtaposition the director uses during scenes of high tension and violence which come off strange at best. For example during the violent shots of Veronica’s rape we are also shown images and memories of her young child. Although this was probably meant to add to the drama and lessen the brutality of the scene it comes off more than a little creepy and confusing instead.

It’s far from perfect, but the film has a tension that works, even through some of the more unbelievable aspects and odd plot twists, and it’s a subject that is worth recognizing and discussing. It may not be what you want to see at the movies, but it’s not something you can not ignore either. I had a very mixed reaction to the film as I can admit to the workmanship of the material, but also feel a bit dirty by just viewing what, at times, becomes a self-indulgent voyeuristic seedy journey, which tries a bit too hard to tack on a happy ending. This is a film where one should leave depressed, heart-broken and mad as hell, but it does not have quite enough bravery, in the end, to go to the the necessary lengths to drive its point home. Given the disturbing images and situations the film puts the audience through early in the film, when it never capitalizes on them, it feels like a cop-out which leaves the audience with the wrong message.

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