"The Abolitionists" Review

Garnering an estimated $32 billion a year globally, human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise.  With its high profit and low risk margins, it is an attractive industry for predators who prey on society’s more vulnerable population. But who are the victims? What’s being done to combat trafficking? In the film, The Abolitionists, former CIA and Homeland Security operative Tim Ballard takes viewers into the fight against child sex-trafficking using undercover footage from rescue operations around the world.

The film opens with a young girl named Luciana. She sits in silhouette talking about how she was told she would get help finding a job. After going to the “job site”, she said “they put something in the beverage, and I just started to sleep.” A title flashes on the screen: Every 30 seconds, a child is sold as a sex slave.  It’s this sobering sequence that sets a tone for the film. While you may need a Kleenex nearby at moments in the movie, directors Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas strike a balance between sobering truth and uplifting hope!

We’re then introduced to Timothy Ballard, the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), as he explains how he started his company. After saving a little boy who had been trafficked back and forth to Mexico, he realized that he wanted to keep saving children for the rest of his life. Ballard is the real deal. He explains how he had to watch pornography of the boy in order to find clues for the case. So his union with the boy was a monumental moment in his life, and his decision to continue to subject himself to atrocities like that didn’t come lightly.

From there, we hit the ground in foreign countries, meeting some of Ballard’s team along the way. One member calls himself Batman. Batman goes into places and does things that the government can’t, infiltrating himself with traffickers. Batman had a literal come to Jesus moment after 15 years of laundering money for drug cartels all over Latin America. He realized that he was a part of the problem, and wanted to be a part of the solution. Turning his life around, he’s been fighting trafficking ever since.

The O.U.R. team takes us on a journey through a few of their harrowing missions during the film as they unfold. These undercover operations will have you run the gamut of emotions while holding your breath due to the stakes. The weight of saving the innocent lives that are on the line is felt by all involved. It’s guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat!

Rated PG-13, I think it’s worth noting that while the documentary crime drama is based on a tough subject, Fletcher and Thomas don’t show us anything that is graphically disturbing. Victims are kept in silhouette or their faces are blurred out. Even when Ballard talks about the issues, it’s handled with care. His Christian values are displayed throughout the film. The team prays at points before difficult events, and yet the universal message about the danger and reality of this rapidly growing industry shines through.

The film is somewhat heavy handed at times with its epic, sweeping orchestral score and occasional dramatic narration from Ballard. The music surges periodically, almost forcing you to look at its characters as heroes. But the thing is, they are! The men and women involved should definitely be commended and viewed as heroes, making it easy to excuse the cinematic manipulation!

The Abolitionists manages to package the hard and sad facts about child sex-trafficking into a spoon full of sugar that's easier to swallow in the form of a ride along. You quickly invest in the film’s “characters” and stakes.  It’s a film that will stick with you after the credits roll and make you want to join the fight for freedom. In a situation that can be hopeless for its victims, its great to see that there are people willing to take a stand, risk their lives, and liberate these children! While a cure-all dose of medicine for this sick practice may not be on the horizon, this dose of medicine certainly gives hope!

Rating: A

**The Abolitionists is playing nationwide May 16, 2016 through Fathom Events. Click here for more info: http://www.fathomevents.com/event/the-abolitionist

Get involved: http://theabolitionistsmovie.com

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.