A three-hour mini-series that originally debuted on the Lifetime Channel might not sound like all that snazzy a way to spend your evening, and I for one groaned aloud when I realized what I was about to sit through -- but hey, whaddaya know? Aside from being overlong by about an hour and dabbling far too often in a "preachifying" style of storytelling, Human Trafficking isn't half bad.
Few topics are as horrifying as this: You're on vacation in the Philippines and your pre-teen daughter is abducted and sold to a slavery ring that supplies the planet's underbelly with fresh-faced and unwilling prostitutes. Or maybe you're a single mom in the Ukraine who just met a really nice guy ... a guy who turns out to be a scumbag slave-trader who threatens to murder your daughter if you don't do what you're told. And then there's the starry-eyed young Russian girl, promised a fair shot at a modeling career, only to be shipped overseas and turned into a deviant's plaything.
Sounds like salacious and grungy entertainment, doesn't it? Fortunately, no, because Human Trafficking is simply interested in bringing this sickening network to light. And if you happen to toss a fairly engaging little police procedural into the proceedings, heck, why not?
Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland play a pair of immigration officers who aim to bring down Sergei Karpovich (as greasily played by the excellent Robert Carlyle), a successful modeling agent who also moonlights as the leader of a massive slavery network. Karpovich's cronies steal young women from all four corners of the globe, and oddly enough -- most of 'em end of here in the good ol' U.S.A. You'd think that would make the unfortunate women just a bit luckier, but nope. The seedy brothels and makeshift jails are deceptively easy to hide in a large city.
Employing a device (and let's be honest: a title) snagged from Soderbergh's Traffic, director Christian Duguay presents several separate and distinct plot threads, each of which manages to slowly wend its way towards the others. Three of the sub-stories focus on the aforementioned abductions, while the fourth focuses on Sorvino and Sutherland as they try to thwart the evil bastards while doling out some seriously generic cop-movie dialogue.
Visually, Duguay (he directed the underrated Screamers in 1995) shows off a lot more style than one might expect from a Lifetime flick. Human Trafficking has some really grim and gritty material, and the director balances it nicely with some slick camera moves and a tone that's equal parts horrifying and informative. (Did you know that human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity in the world, behind only weapons and narcotics? I'd have guessed politics.)
Video: I don't know if the flick was originally broadcast in widescreen, but that's how it arrives on DVD. Picture quality is quite strong, especially considering you're watching a TV movie.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, which comes through loud and clear. It's mostly a dialogue-flick with only a few chases or loud noises, so you'll be more than satisfied with the audio quality.
A pair of interviews are included, one with leading lady Mira Sorvino (6:10) and the other with the villainous Robert Carlyle (5:56). There's also another interview amalgam under the guise of a behind-the-scenes featurette (7:10). New faces include writer/director Christian Duguay and actors Donald Sutherland, Isabelle Blais, and the beautiful Laurence Lebouef. (Laurence is a girl.) Lastly, a Stop Human Trafficking Now heading is not a bunch of the flick's negative reviews, but a text-based collection of facts and figures regarding the global scourge of slavery.
It's long and occasionally a bit dry, and it sure as hell isn't anything close to subtle, but, despite my initial skepticism, Human Trafficking turned out to be a entertaining piece of "topical" entertainment. Sutherland's fine and Carlyle is great ... but Ms. Sorvino has got to give up on the "tough girl" thing already. Gal's a fine actress, but this stuff doesn't fit her all that well.