Film Review: Traded

Grim little western about a father trying to rescue his daughter from 19th-century white slavers founders on genre clichés.
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Clay Travis (Michael Paré) and his wife Amelia (Constance Brenneman) are hard-working ranchers with two children, feisty, teenage Lily (Brittany Elizabeth Williams) and her little brother, Jake (Hunter Fischer). Tragedy strikes when Jake is fatally bitten by a rattlesnake, sending Amelia into a bitter depression that eventually drives Lily to run away from home to pursue her dream of becoming a Harvey Girl—waitresses who worked in restaurants and hotels that served passengers travelling West by railroad during the late 19th century.

But the naïve Lily is instead kidnapped by white slavers and put on a stagecoach bound for wide-open Dodge City, where whiskey, hotels and brothels form the basis of the local economy. So Clay—who once upon a time was a notorious gunslinger and still knows his way around the business end of a six-shooter—embarks on a desperate journey to rescue his little girl before it's too late, crossing paths along the way with a passel of scoundrels, varmints, gamblers, gunslingers, shady ladies and other genre types, including the philosophical bartender (Kris Kristofferson) who warns him in colorfully metaphorical language that committing to the way of the gun can really ruin your karma.

To be fair, it's really hard to bring anything truly new to the western table, so the fact that actor-turned-director Timothy Woodward, Jr.'s Traded doesn't is not in and of itself a damning criticism. And the torture scene involving a hungry rat trapped under a heated frying pan that rests on the beleaguered Clay's belly, while not actually new, is something I've never seen it in a western... though the scene might have worked better if the rat weren't of the white, pink-eyed lab variety, which I'll wager were in short supply on the streets of 19th-century frontier towns. The use of the word "disappeared" in the phrase "disappeared your daughter" also rings profoundly wrong for the era, and that's not nitpicking—if a period film can't sell the period, it's not working. That said, the film's emphasis on the particular harshness of Western life for women is admirable, given that the genre skews heavily to masculine—whether ranch wives, teachers, shopkeepers, waitresses or, yes, prostitutes, women built the West side by side with men.

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