Frank Scheck|21 March 2019
NEW YORK — You can tell a film is intending to deliver a message when its press release includes a litany of damning statistics. The one for Cargo, about human trafficking, includes such data as this, culled from a United Nations report: an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year; 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking; and 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls.
Yan Vizinberg’s debut feature, opening for an exclusive run at New York’s Quad Cinema, deals with the latter area. It concerns Natasha (Natasha Rinis), a beautiful Russian woman who is lured to the West by the promise of a modeling career. Landing in Mexico where she is briefly held captive, she becomes human cargo headed for sex slavery in New York, transported in the back of a truck driven by devout Muslim Sayed (Sayed Badreya).
After Natasha makes a valiant but fruitless effort to escape, she winds up in the passenger seat next to Sayed, who clearly has no relish for his unsavory task but is desperate to make money for his family in Egypt. As might be expected, Natasha’s desperate attempts to appeal to his sense of morality begin to have a softening effect on her transporter, whose resulting crisis of conscience has fateful repercussions.
Although the screenplay by Vizinberg and Lee Peterkin holds little in the way of surprises, it does offer a taut storyline and complex characterizations. Both Rinis (in her film debut) and Badreya deliver compelling performances, and their verbal interactions, which take up much of the running time, are subtly rendered and believable. What could have been a typically didactic message film instead resonates with thoughtful humanity.