“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.”
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Today, I’m trying something new.
I never really considered trying to write a movie review for public consumption before, and I probably won’t often attempt it again in the future. This is for two primary reasons. First, that film is not my area of expertise. I like plenty of movies, and dislike plenty of others, but cannot pretend to be any kind of authority on the subject. Second (in complete and ridiculous contradiction to the first), I’m kind of a snob when it comes to film, and I don’t want this blog to become an environment for negativity and arrogance.
Hopefully, I can avoid that today.
But I make no guarantees.
The movie I want to discuss today is called “Priceless”. Released in 2016, it tells the story of James, a down-and-out widower who agrees to drive a box-truck cross-country for an easy payday, no questions asked. Things get interesting when a minor accident reveals his cargo to be human— a pair of young Latina sisters destined for futures as victims of sex trafficking. When James realizes what he’s become a part of, he is forced to choose between turning his back on the innocent girls or risking everything to do what is right.
Before I proceed to detail the film’s flaws and virtues, it seems right my readers should know where my opinions are coming from. “Priceless” is a Christian-made movie, which I might as well admit is something I usually avoid. This is a terrible (and perhaps unfair) thing to say, but there are two kinds of Christians: those who enjoy productions like “God’s Not Dead” and “Fireproof”, and those who do not. I am of the latter camp. The reasons for this are too lengthy to get into today, but may warrant a future post of their own. Stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, I will merely distinguish that I took this particular movie in from two different perspectives— that of a story-teller, and that of an ordinary human (who cares about other ordinary humans).
We’ll look through that first lens to start, because, well… who doesn’t want to get the bad news out of the way first?
“Priceless” is not a bad story, when you look at the nuts and bolts of it. It had the potential to be an exceptional one. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in faith-based film, the execution was very poor. Stories tend to be weak when the message within them is given preeminence. It subverts the creative vessel.
I almost turned the movie off after three minutes, which was more than enough time for me to realize it would not be strong in the story-telling department. “Priceless” opens with a completely unnecessary voice-over/info-dump. All of said info comes out organically as the plot unfolds, which confirmed my initial impression that the filmmakers must have a very low opinion of their audience’s intelligence.
Every writer knows the importance of show don’t tell. This is no less true with a visual medium. In fact, it should be be even more true. But I guess whoever scripted “Priceless” didn’t get that memo.
Most of the other flaws common in faith-based entertainment are also present here. These include (but are not limited to) a predictable plot, two-dimensional characters, and stilted dialogue. The acting isn’t great, but to the movie’s credit, I’ve seen much worse.
The romantic subplot did not sit well with me. I am of the opinion that the whole knight-in-shining-armor trope has no place in a Christ-centered story (unless it happens to be some kind of allegory… but this was not, and even if it had been, I still probably would have disliked it). See, there’s only one man who can save us. And his name is Jesus. Also, I’ve never been a victim of sex trafficking, but I’m pretty sure if I was plucked from such a hellish situation, my first impulse would not be to flirt with the guy who rescued me. I don’t care how handsome he is.
I did appreciate that the filmmakers chose not to overly sugar-coat the central issue of human trafficking. You don’t see many Christian-made movies with a PG-13 rating (because, GASP! The horror!) But some pictures cannot be painted with daisies and rainbows, then slapped with a G-rating, just to make us feel better. This is one of them, and I’m glad they had the guts/brains to take the rainbow-less approach.
On that note, let it be clarified that the content of “Priceless” is in no way gratuitous. I recently watched a documentary on sex trafficking that I thought actually went too far in its explicit depiction of reality. It is possible to show a viewer the truth without pornographic imagery, and “Priceless” did a commendable job of that.
So much for the story-teller’s lens. Now we can wrap up with the human lens.
The purpose of “Priceless” is to draw attention to the abomination that is human trafficking. Imperfect as the film is in terms of artistry and entertainment, in this end, at least, it succeeds. Though it may be accurately categorized as something like propaganda, this is one instance in which the propaganda ain’t a bad thing.
I’ve wanted to broach the subject of trafficking here on my blog, but ’til now wasn’t sure how to go about it. Reviewing this film gave me an opening, and I am grateful for that.
I assume that the average American doesn’t know much about this issue (because, if everyone did, why would it still be happening? Why wouldn’t our social media feeds be bursting with cries for justice as opposed to political quarrels and cat videos?)
As such, “Priceless” is to be valued as an educational instrument. I will even go so far as to recommend for my readers to watch it. Whether you’re informed on human trafficking or not, it offers a sobering picture of what millions (yes, millions) of human souls are subjected to on a daily basis, not only in far-flung foreign locales, but in our own backyards.
I hope to give more attention to this crisis here in the future. Until then, I encourage you all to check out this movie, learn what you can about trafficking, and choose not to look the other way.