As the father of three daughters, there’s always concern about their welfare—making sure they’re taken care of, providing a loving home for them to be raised in, and taking care of them when they’re sick, hurt, or simply need a hug or listening ear. I certainly don’t want anything bad to happen to them and will protect them at all costs. But I still am nervous from time to time when reading some of the statistics about abduction and human trafficking. It’s one of the reasons Priceless, the new movie from Joel and Luke Smallbone of For King and Country, made an indelible impact on me. It’s not perfect, but is a reminder that all people are of value—just as Dr. Seuss noted in his work Horton Hears a Who.
If you don’t think human trafficking is something you should be concerned with, think again. The FBI notes that trafficking is believed to be the third largest criminal activity globally. It’s not just about sex either: their site notes, “Human trafficking includes forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking. It involves both U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, and has no demographic restrictions.” That right there should give reason for pause.
Priceless attempts to peel back some of the layers of secrecy involving trafficking. Joel Smallbone plays James Stevens, a guy who’s definitely down on his luck. After losing his wife, he spiraled down and ended up losing custody of his little girl. Attempting to earn a paycheck, he began transporting cargo with the condition that he never asks what the contents of the truck are. Of course, this raises a red flag, but desperation makes you do funny things. After running off the road due to lack of sleep, he hears crying in the back of the truck. Eschewing his orders, he opens the back to find two women—Antonia (Bianca Santos) and Maria (Amber Midthunder). And then the orders not to check out the cargo made sense. The two women are as scared of him as he is of them (and speak limited English to boot), but he offers them a change to get a change of clothes and a meal. He soon finds that his truck is not welcome at the hotel he hopes to stay at for the evening. And after seeing Carlos (Jim Parrack) take the ladies away, he realizes he has to do something. But what?
The hotel operator, Dale (David Koechner), has seen the transporting of women before and offers to help James get the ladies back. It’s not going to be easy, as the camera follows the girls into a house in a typical neighborhood, where they stay before being prepared to become sex slaves at a local hotel. The girls know it’s a bad situation, but have no idea who to talk to or how to get out of it. James begins to grow in his understanding of what to do—Dale calls it the Godshot (akin to Elijah hearing God’s voice after a windstorm, earthquake, and fire—see I Kings 19:9-18). So James does something wild—he attempts to free Antonia after calling in a thousand-dollar request to have relations with her (and no, he doesn’t make out with her). She’s still nervous about what to do—and wants Maria to be saved as well. The night ends with nobody being saved, but hope is potentially on the horizon. But so is potential death once Carlos figures out what’s going on.
Will James and Dale’s attempt at vigilante justice work out? Or will the curtain fall again on the ladies, resorting to a life of abuse and forced sexual exploits?
I have to admit that I was impressed with the film. Smallbone does a great job as James, pulling off the nuances necessary to convey an individual torn between justice, his daughter, and protecting himself. Koechner shines as Dale, a grizzled gentleman with a past that needs to be vindicated. The two ladies show fear in ways that are convincing, while Carlos and his band of henchmen come across as menacing folks for any parent watching. However, the film is tastefully done—you know what’s going to happen when the door shuts, and even though you can’t see it, you’re reminded that the world can be a scary place at times.
There are a few issues with the film, mainly with slow pacing and some trite dialogue in places. I did, however, appreciate a faith aspect that wasn’t browbeaten into my subconscious. The beauty of Priceless will ultimately appear in the form of later discussions with others. Teenagers should be okay with the film and will likely have questions afterward. It’s a great time to remind kids that they need to be careful in life and online. When a person admits they’re looking for love and acceptance to complete strangers, that’s a formula for catastrophe.
I hope none of the people reading this ever have to deal with this in life, but I’m not naïve enough to think it can’t happen, as this type of situation existed in biblical times—think of Hosea’s charge from God to marry the prostitute Gomer and to buy her back later after she left him (Hosea 1; Hosea 3). It was a foreshadowing of the future cost of Jesus’ life as God showed the world how much a person is worth. But in our own lives, we have to answer for ourselves what a person is worth—Priceless will help viewers find that answer and make a difference as a result.
By the way, if you believe you are the victim of trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888. It’s a national, toll-free hotline with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur. Or you can leave a tip with them by clicking here.