Jeannette Catsoulis|21 March 2019
Natasha Rinis plays a victim of traffickers in “Cargo.”
A stripped-down, socially conscious drama set in the slippery world of human trafficking, Yan Vizinberg’s “Cargo” is commendably free of cheap emotional manipulation. Instead the film leans almost exclusively on the focused performances of its two leads, who create a credibly barbed chemistry that goes a long way toward distracting us from the film’s low-budget deficiencies.
The setup is all too familiar: Natasha (Natasha Rinis), an attractive young Russian woman, has been smuggled into the United States by traffickers posing as modeling agents. Now she’s in the not-so-tender hands of an Egyptian driver, Sayed (Sayed Badreya), who has been entrusted with transporting her from the Mexican border to a buyer in New York City.
A committed Muslim who views his passenger as simply an immoral woman who deserves no better, Sayed treats her like livestock and ignores her pleas for help. But as their journey progresses, Natasha’s repeated escape attempts and refusal to submit earn her captor’s grudging respect; and when they cautiously begin to talk, we think we know how this will play out.
We don’t. The pair may reveal heart-tugging personal details, but their truths are more complicated, and Mr. Vizinberg — who encountered a trafficker while working as a reporter for a Russian television station in New York City — resists the urge to whitewash. By setting up a relationship that’s constantly shifting and uncertain, he combats the claustrophobia of the setting (most of the action is confined to the cabin of Sayed’s van) and the spareness of the story. Between Sayed’s worldview and Natasha’s lies an ideological swamp that’s more effectively hinted at than drained.