DVD Review - Priceless (2016)

Joel Smallbone is part of an Australian duo with his brother called For King & Country. Two years ago, that music group released the album Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong, which was nominated for two Grammy Awards. A single from that album was used in this film and also shares the same title. The reason the song was used is because Smallbone is also an actor who stars in this film. His other, non-musical brother, Ben Smallbone, directed it. On the DVD's special features, the director said his inspiration came not only from his brother's music but also a story that he learned where prostitutes were approached by men not for sex but for talks advising them to stop prostitution by saying their value or worth was more, according to Christian faith.

This movie tells that story, which is meant to stand up against prostitution and also human trafficking. While this is a noble goal, there are still some issues with how the story is conveyed here. Joel Smallbone plays the role of James, a family man with a wife and daughter, a little girl who's only 6 or 7 or so. The writers of the movie, Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle, kick things off by making James a widow. Unfortunately, one of the biggest clichés in films for a white, male protagonist is to have a dead wife. It is so hackneyed and sentimental, and it is used here with no substantial purpose or need.

Ostensibly, the dead wife angle is supposed to be what pushes James to become a cross-country, truck driver. Yet, it's totally and completely unnecessary. He could have been desperate for work for a myriad of reasons that aren't nearly as hackneyed. Plus, of all the jobs, why truck driving? There's no sense of who he was before or what his skills used to be.

James is honestly too sexy to be a truck driver. The movie makes a joke about his looks, but it's done with a level of self-awareness that James seems to lack. He is by light years the sexiest truck driver who has ever been. Yes, this is a movie and actors in general are so good-looking as to often draw this criticism. It's not as distracting when there is some authenticity or verisimilitude around it, and this movie seemingly is genuine, but Smallbone still feels a bit miscast. If James had decided to make money as a male-model that would have been more believable than him being a trucker.

Beyond that, the plotting of this narrative is ridiculous and rather boring. James learns that two Mexican women are in the back of his box truck. He gets to know one of them, Antonia, played by Bianca A. Santos. He suspects something is wrong and they do too when he has to deliver them to a shady and very creepy guy in a motel parking lot. The two Mexican women are then obviously led into a prostitution ring whose pimp is that creepy guy named Garo, played by Jim Parrack (True Blood).

The movie wants James to be put in a position where he's the only one that can rescue those two women. The fact of the matter is that that's bull. David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) co-stars as Dale, the manager of the aforementioned motel. He's aware of the human trafficking occurring, but he does nothing to stop it. Yet, he has the audacity to condescend, while also proselytizing. He not-so-subtly pushes James to do something, but prior to James' arrival, Dale did nothing. He claims to be so righteous but has done nothing about the situation himself.

At any point, James could have simply called any number of police agencies. Garo's outlandish behavior, basically retaliating against James, is too over-the-top. It makes no sense as to why Garo would go through all this trouble for a couple of Mexican girls. It all just feels contrived and forced.

Along with the dead wife cliché, this movie also has the cliché of damsels-in-distress waiting for a man to save them, particularly a white man. This movie makes the two Mexican women out to be such victims with absolutely no agency. In one scene, they literally say they're going to wait for James to rescue them. It's just sad that they don't try to rescue themselves or don't think they can even try.

The ending is just as sexist. James and Antonia team up to reform prostitutes and remind them of their worth. The problem is James approaches the prostitutes out of a dark alley in a hoodie. He's the one who sits them down and talks to them. The question is why him. Why couldn't Antonia be the one to approach the girls? Why couldn't she be the one to sit them down and talk to them without him? James wasn't the one who learned the lesson. It was Antonia, so it should come from her. For James to do it, it only perpetuates the patriarchy and sexism that women need men always to save them because they can't save themselves, or women can't save other women.

Rated PG-13 for material involving human trafficking and some violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.


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