The surest sign that we’re in the midst of a western revival is all the chaff that’s come along with the wheat. Traded, a paternal revenge drama set in and around Dodge City some twenty years after the Civil War, serves mainly to remind how exceptional recent standouts like The Homesman and Dead Man’s Burden have been.
Timothy Woodward Jr. opens his entry in the endlessly persistent genre with the kind of peaceful scene that can’t possibly last: a happy family of four talking about apple pie and an upcoming dance. That homefront idyll is quickly undone when the youngest is snakebit and killed, his death throes signaling the end of his family’s way of life.
The boy’s passing permanently drains the color from his mother’s face and leads his older sister down the path of the fallen woman — she aspires to join the ranks of the (in)famous Harvey Girls. The main cast do what they can with lines from the “way out yonder” school of western dialogue, but they’re surrounded by bit players who can’t make the verbiage work.
Traded quickly becomes a “dad saves his daughter from villainous exploiters” tale, complete with saloon shootouts, decades-old vendettas, and a lack of any real agency for the missing girl herself. The film likens prostitution to a continuation of the slavery that was eradicated two decades earlier by a certain Proclamation, but never bothers letting any of the working girls emancipate themselves.
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.
Opens June 10, AMC Empire 25
Available on demand
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 8, 2016