Trade is about sex trafficking. Specifically, thugs kidnapping women and children, smuggling them across borders, and selling them in an online auction to become sex slaves. Yikes.
Surprisingly, Trade isn't nearly as disturbing as it could have been. Sure, there were terrified kids imprisoned in dank underground cells, implied sex abuse, and one blatant (though not nearly as gratuitous as it could have been) rape scene. Those elements, however, are purposeful, and drive the film's point home—sex trafficking is real, it's horrific, and it affects innocent people. It's also flourishing—the film's based on a New York Times Magazine piece that exposed the underbelly of international human trafficking, which drags up to 20,000 victims into the US each year.
Yet few victims have a heroic brother like Trade's Jorge (Cesar Ramos), who goes on a quest to save his 13-year-old sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) after she's kidnapped on the streets of Mexico City. He sneaks across the border, and has a run-in with a Texas cop (Kevin Kline), and the two end up tracking down Adriana in the hopes of rescuing her before she's ultimately sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, Adriana befriends Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a young Polish woman who's also been kidnapped—who puts her own life on the line to protect the younger kids.
The parallels between Trade and Traffic—a similar exposé/drama on drug trafficking—are obvious, and the films' stark cinematography styles are strikingly similar. But while Traffic explored territory that most Americans are at least vaguely aware of—duh, there's a drug war—Trade succeeds at covering new, terrifying ground. Trade might not be as harrowing as it could have been, and perhaps should be—but the reality it portrays certainly is.