Movies: Trafficked * *
(18, general release)
Thus far, most attempts to deal with the dark side of the immigrant experience in Celtic Tiger Ireland have become mired in cliché and platitude. Ciaran O'Connor's Trafficked at least has something approaching a believable story, and also boasts a powerful central performance from Karl Shiels.
Apparently more than five years in the making, O'Connor's film tells the story of Taiwo (Ruth Negga), a naïve young immigrant who has been trafficked into Ireland for the purposes of prostitution.
Initially in the dark about all this, she realises something is up after she has landed and escapes from the truck in which she was being transported. Alone on the Dublin streets, she checks into a city centre B&B, not knowing that its owner is a dodgy dude with underworld connections.
The word has gone out that crime boss Theo McManus has lost one of his imported prostitutes, but when the B&B owner tells small-time crook Keely (Karl Shiels) about Taiwo, Keely sees an opportunity of his own.
After robbing Taiwo's money while she's in the shower, Keely buys her breakfast and tells her she can stay at his place, but is secretly planning to make her a cash cow at his friend's lap-dancing club. But over time Keely begins to care about Taiwo, and he's also playing a dangerous game with McManus, who is bound to find out what's going on and catch up with him.
Trafficked's central drama is not without its possibilities, firstly because it gets beyond the easy option of portraying Taiwo purely as a victim, and secondly because of Shiels' excellent portrayal of Keely. In his hands, Keely becomes a wholly three-dimensional character and remains nicely ambiguous until very near the end.
Sadly, though, Trafficked's story is badly let down by the basics of lighting and direction. A lot of the action takes place in almost impenetrable gloom, and five or six times mood-setting street shots are ruined by a video camera's fruitless search for focus. It's a pity, and I believe Mr O'Connor completed his film on a shoestring budget, but a film that's not nice to watch makes for a pretty hard sell.