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April 2011

Trafficked

cast: Ruth Negga, Karl Shiels, Martin Dunne, Niall O'Brien, and Nellie Conroy

director: Ciar´┐Żn O'Connor

85 minutes (18) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Stoney Road DVD Region 2

RATING: 5/10
review by Ian Sales

Trafficked

Taiwo (Ruth Negga), hoping for a better life, is smuggled into Dublin from Africa. As soon as she is settled, she plans to bring her sister to join her. On arrival, she escapes from the man who collected her from the dock. The man puts out the call to his mates to look out for a missing young black woman. First to find her is Keely (Karl Shiels). One of his contacts at a bed and breakfast rings him when a young woman meeting Taiwo's description comes looking for a room. Keely persuades his mate to give Taiwo a room - only to then rob her while she is in the shower. Now that Taiwo is penniless, he offers to buy her food. Later, Keely tells her she can sleep in his flat (but not to share his bed, he adamantly insists). He then arranges a job for her in a lap-dancing club as a waitress.

It's not entirely clear what Keely's motives are. Is he saving Taiwo from a life of near-slavery as a prostitute? Is he going into business for himself, managing an illegal immigrant in return for her wages? It's certainly not romance. But, no matter why he rescued Taiwo, by refusing to hand her back to gang boss McManus (Niall O'Brien), he has put himself in a difficult situation, and possibly a fatal one.

Taiwo proves a good worker at the lap-dancing club, so much so that owner Tony (Martin Dunne) wants her to offer more 'services', but she refuses. At which point members of McManus' gang appear and Taiwo's fate is spelled out for her. Keely offers to buy her from McManus, but he doesn't have the money. He makes wild promises, the gangster accepts his offer, but it's clear the deal will not be followed through. As Keely soon discovers when he tries to rescue Taiwo.

Given the character of Taiwo, and the title, Trafficked is a surprisingly inoffensive film. There's a horrible rape towards the end - and it is implied it would have been Taiwo's lot had she not run away. But up until that point, Trafficked consists chiefly of a few quick moments of violence, a lot of swearing, and the cast behaving like human beings. Taiwo's situation is plainly dangerous, and she's repeatedly told this, but it's hard to believe it. Even that rape seems more gratuitous than a consequence of her circumstance. Further, she recovers unrealistically quickly from it.

Throughout the film, in voiceover, Taiwo has been reading extracts from letters to her sister. Even after the rape, after she is once again 'owned' by McManus, she still wants her sister to join her. Since we are not told her situation back home, it's hard to see the attraction of her new life. The imagined reality does not add up - poverty in Africa, or servitude in Ireland for a cruel master. The differences are likely a great deal more stark in the true reality - rape, murder and poverty in Africa, or servitude and rape in Ireland. But having no idea of Taiwo's true circumstances, the difference seems a little whimsical. No city in the developed world has streets paved with gold; the American dream was never more than advertising - and misleading advertising, at that. It's not enough to justify a life of slavery and prostitution.

Trafficked was apparently released in 2004 under the title Capital Letters, but failed to find an audience. The old title may well have been to blame. It remains to be seen whither it will be more successful now. Trafficked is a low-budget film, but it doesn't define it. The acting is generally good, the dialogue mostly fine. But as a story it all feels a bit weak, without the confidence to carry through on the ideas it initially appears to be discussing. It's disappointing.



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