The cinematography was well done, the dialogue was competently written, the subject matter was timely, the actors had some skill, and the soundtrack was, unsurprisingly, solid.
However, the writer’s room seemed to believe that it was of prime importance that our main protagonist retained the common sense of a raisin. Either that, or nobody on the production staff thought that giving a copy of the script to an intern at a local attorney’s office for review was a worthwhile endeavor. I wanted to like this movie, but it’s tough to cheer for a main character who makes bad choices the whole way through.
If you haven’t seen it already…spoiler warning.
Our story starts with a protagonist who’s down on his luck after a messy divorce, and ends up getting paid a lot of money to drive a box truck across the country, no-questions-asked. Now…as far as I’m concerned, that was the first problem: if you’re getting paid a lot of money to not-ask questions, you either commit to not asking questions or you walk away up front. Nobody pays triple market value for a bloke to drive a U-Haul full of sweaters. Assume you’re carrying something illegal, don’t get pulled over, and let it be someone else’s problem. “But doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the story?” It could…but the other way to do it would have been to have the “what did I do” gnaw at him after he had cash-in-hand and he worked with law enforcement from the ground up. Either way, it’s established early on that our protagonist isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Seven minutes in, he finds out he’s a participant in human trafficking (again, he gets no sympathy from me or the title of “unwitting protagonist”…he accepted money and asked no questions). He doesn’t contact law enforcement at that point, when it would have been smart…no, he keeps driving with them, because…he still wants to get paid, I guess…so, he gets to where he’s going and hands them over, clearly not to anybody these young women know. Transaction complete. Congratulations, he’s officially a human trafficker. Our protagonist is actually a human trafficker. We could have had a movie where he went rogue and it was all Liam Neeson from Taken, but no…we had to have a protagonist who is literally a human trafficker.
Cowboy comes in and seems upset about the fact that there’s trafficking going on…mutual distrust is understandable, but….there’s no fish-or-cut-bait situation happening? Cowboy is accusing protagonist of being a human trafficker, but if it’s a one-and-done deal, why take on the guilt now? Oh, he’s got a daughter, and that comes up any time there’s a need for emotional gravity…that’s literally all she’s used for in the whole movie is to be an emotional anchor. We know nothing about her, except that she’s missed by her dad and says cute things on the phone.
Protagonist meets local sheriff, and at this point, protagonist is abundantly aware of what’s going on…now, it was so bleeding obvious from the get-go that the sheriff was in on it. I had no idea how protagonist missed it, or failed to even suspect it…but if protagonist isn’t going to call county police, at least make a statement down at the station. Moreover, protagonist forgot his Miranda Rights. Anything he says can – and will – be used against him in a court of law. He’s guilty of human trafficking and has an envelope full of money and a phone with call logs, and the keys to the truck. He’s guilty and carrying enough evidence for a conviction…and then he flat out confesses his crime. Now, if the sheriff was all-the-way upstanding, he’d probably have rightfully arrested protagonist. Even if the sheriff saw protagonist as an unwitting pawn and let him go free, protagonist still has an envelope full of money that needed to go back to the sellers. If the sheriff considered the money ‘evidence’ (or just good old fashioned civil asset forfeiture), protagonist has nothing to bring back to the seller. He puts his daughter in jeopardy in the most pointless way possible: putting himself in a position to not-have the money.
Protagonist then goes to the hotel, and pays $100 for an hour with the girl he dropped off…yes, that’s right, he pays the pimps. And…he takes his hour to let her relax, I guess? It’s really unclear what his plan is at this point, probably because he doesn’t have one and is making it up as he goes. He’s up against an organized set of human traffickers with very little information and no experience, and it shows. Our victim is the only one with a lick of sense; she has no trust in protagonist to hold to his word and sees right through his complete absence of a plan.
Cowboy comes back and shows the slightest level of wisdom, which is great….but in their discussion, it’s revealed that protagonist has managed to grow a conscience in a single afternoon? I didn’t believe it either, but memories-of-daughter come to ensure my concerns are quelled.
Blah blah blah, protagonist and cowboy decide to storm the castle, just the two of them. Now, let’s unpack the list of reasons this was stupid. The first reason, isn’t that the traffickers have guns. Both sides have guns, and cowboy has a cool hat so we can assume he’s better than they are. The real concern isn’t the guns, it’s the hostages. To the traffickers, the girls are replaceable. They can shoot indiscriminately or use the girls as human shields and they aren’t worried about collateral damage. To protagonist and cowboy, however, there’s a problem if anybody dies. Let’s take violence out of it for a bit. Let’s assume a recon visit, no weapons, no damage, no threats…not that protagonist and cowboy can bank on any of that, but let’s try it for a minute…anything they find is inadmissible in court if they’re going to attempt to bring the traffickers up on criminal charges. They’re going to undermine themselves because nobody passed a civics class.
Skip a bit, and we have ‘the interrogation’…where the trafficker and the cowboy have a rather polite conversation…based entirely on emotion and nothing that adheres to scrutiny. “you took my daughter 10 years ago”, “hate to disappoint, but I was still in high school 10 years ago”, “you’re all the same”…and that’s where cowboy loses me. It’s a personal vendetta, for which cowboy is holding trafficker personally responsible, except that this particular trafficker isn’t responsible for what happened to his daughter AND he admits that his daughter ran away, willingly…stupidly, but willingly. Now, this doesn’t absolve trafficker of his crimes, but it does undo most of the sympathy I have for the cowboy. If he’s not picky about which trafficker he takes down, why does he stay in a town where the law is in on it, and why has he had no success in the past ten years getting other law enforcement involved? He might have the moral high ground and some solid zingers, but at the end of the day, he comes across as being less competent due to his drive being primarily emotion based. It’s great that his feelings compelled him to action, but if we define ‘success’ in this context as ‘efficacy in achieving one’s goals’, trafficker has money, beautiful women, and law enforcement on his payroll. The cowboy has…a mountain of guilt and no success in resolving the trafficking that happens in his town. Absent our protagonist, it’s unclear how the status quo would have changed otherwise.
Then we rescue victim and the hostage trade that everybody with a brain stem saw coming…props to our victim for staying ten toes to the ground and prioritizing the well being of her sister to the extent she does. The exchange is again, super emotionally charged, and…why didn’t trafficker shoot protagonist the minute he put his gun down? How did actual-law-enforcement show up at this point, but not before? How did the cops obtain a warrant for the other location we see the SWAT team going to, with no evidence? What judge signed off on that warrant? We see protagonist get arrested, but the role of law enforcement adds a metric ton of questions that are all answered in a ‘dip to black’.
We jump to ‘one year later’…what now?! We just handwaved away the attempted murder charges that were likely filed. The police officers were witnesses in that attempted murder. How did he avoid being accused of the death of cowboy? Protagonist could also easily be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and child endangerment based solely on the testimony of the cops, and there’s still the problem regarding all of the evidence connecting him to the trafficking he was guilty of. How, exactly, did all of that get dropped?
And then, there’s the beautiful, romantic ending…that is all the way messed up as far as I’m concerned. The house he buys is cowboy’s old house, great…how did he get it, exactly? Cowboy met protagonist not three days before he died, there was no way it was left to him in a will. How’d protagonist buy it? With what money? What job did he get that he couldn’t get at the beginning of the movie that allows him to make that kind of money? I count ten people in the closing scene, none of whom are implied to be independently wealthy or have vocations with six figure incomes. The math simply doesn’t work.
Let’s talk about what happens after the arrest. Where did she and her sister go while protagonist was in jail, at least awaiting his arraignment even if we assume everything got acquitted? She’s wearing an engagement ring (again, with what money?), but doesn’t have a wedding band. She and her sister are illegal immigrants with no family in the states…so, we’re left to assume she is living at this house? Living with your fiancée is okay if the house is big enough and sufficiently secluded? Oh, and what’s the story with the sister, who’s still a minor at this point? She has zero agency in this outcome at all; did she ever want to go back with her family and her older sister and soon-to-be-brother-in-law said ‘no’? Did she go to school, and how did she deal with the learning deficiencies she clearly would have at this point?
The relationship itself strikes me as incredibly unhealthy. They went from ‘rescue’ to ‘ring’ in less than a year, their relationship started due to tragedy, its development took place completely off screen, and her family is not mentioned, present, or involved. A 10-12 year age gap isn’t terrible unless one of them is about 19, and there is no way she’s gone through the sort of therapy she needs to get to a healthy state after being trafficked, sexually assaulted, and nearly having her sister killed in front of her…If there was a textbook example of ‘stockholm syndrome’, this seems like it.
…But they look good together and she loves him and the lighting is all super warm and inviting and I’m sure there’s some sort of intended Biblical allegory in there somewhere, so we say “awwwwww”. No. Wrapping that sort of bow on the story undoes everything that came before it. What’s the message here? “As long as you’re rescued from being trafficked, you’ll be fine”? “Hopefully your rescuer is tall, dark, and handsome, so you can marry him”? “Committing crimes to end human trafficking gets you a pass on jail time”?
I skimmed the movie for this review; I might actually-watch it again to add a few more points of contention…but for real, I couldn’t get with this movie because it only works when we limit the story to what’s shown on screen. Anything beyond that and it clearly gets incredibly messy, incredibly quickly.