Why "Traded" Wasn't a Great Movie, and How it Could Have Been

"Traded" is an excellent movie, right up until the end. Let's look at why, and how it could have been different.

Trace Adkins is the bad guy, or a bad guy, and I like him in the bad cowboy role. Here is the logline for "Traded".

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A father must leave his ranch for Dodge City to save his daughter from an old enemy, putting his reputation as the fastest draw in the west to the test.

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But, we all know that loglines aren't usually that great at telling us about the movie (the one for "The Wizard of Oz" is hilarious, I will put it at the bottom).

So, let's take the plot breakdown from Wikipedia and that will give us a thorough explanation of what happens.

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The film opens with the narrator stating that women have little value in the West and many become prostitutes. Women are sold and traded like property in Kansas.

In a western cabin 17 year daughter, Lily, asks Dad, Clay, if she can go to the "tie dance" and he says no despite Mom's support. Son, Jake, is sent outside to fetch some honey and is fatally bitten by a rattlesnake. After the funeral and the passage of time, the family is dysfunctional. The mother is in a deep depression and the daughter runs off to become a Harvey girl. Dad, a former gunslinger, follows with guns in hand to rescue his girl.

Dad shows his daughter's picture to anyone who will look. He breaks the nose of the railroad ticket man for lying to him. Daughter, Lily has befriended a man named Rig Marlowe who sells her to become a prostitute. Clay Travis first goes to Wichita to find the Harvey Girl tryouts. No one has seen Lily. Billy the bartender tells Clay to find Rig. Billy also has some sage advice: There is a battle in every man between evil and anger or love and hope. The winner of the two extremes is decided by which side the man feeds.

Dad goes to the Rusty Spur to join a card game with Rig Marlowe, Silas and Charlie. Rig has been caught cheating and Silas shoots him dead. With the Marlowe lead lost, Clay moves on to the Spinning Wheel Saloon run by Ty Stover. Ty denies seeing Lily and after checking with Ty's whores, Dad and the bouncer have a big fist fight. Bartender Billy ends the fight with a gunshot and lets Clay leave. Dad moves on to find Ty at the local firehouse. He learns Ty sold Lily to a man named Lavoie for a new fire bell. Dad leaves Ty hanging by a noose and leaves for Dodge City to find Lavoie. Before leaving, he kills another man from his past in a shoot-out.

Getting off the train in Dodge City, he meets a woman who is so ugly her name is only "Girl". She is a slave to her step-dad who in turn has captured Clay. Clay is chained to his chair but the next morning he kills the step-dad and sets "Girl" free. An old girlfriend and prostitute, Nell, gives Clay a tip on Lavoie who has just taken over the French Chateau whorehouse.

At French Chateau Levoie tells his son Kipp and gangster Jeb how important family is to life. A couple of whores come in to Levoie's office to demand some working conditions. His response is to shoot the first whore dead and to send the remaining girl back to tell the rest of the woman that the dead woman's " snatch went dry and she had to leave town". Clay comes looking for his daughter and tries to escape with her. The "Girl" helps the daughter but Clay is captured. Levoie is going to torture Travis for killing his brother in Wichita. Once again Clay outsmarts his captor.

Clay and Lily finally escape and head for home. Dad finds a note from Mom and one assumes suicide. The daughter finds Mom bringing a horse to the barn and the family is united.

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The last two lines of that plot ruin the entire movie. Why? Because it's a cheap trick and deliberate false expectation. They make it look like the mom is going to hang herself. They obviously did this very much on purpose to try to add some more drama into the homecoming. Then, instead of being dead and hanging in the barn she is just getting a horse with the rope. I saw it coming, you would have seen it coming, everyone knew they were lying to us. It wasn't a mystery plot that we could try to figure out, it was just unjustified deception.

The greatest story is triumph over tragedy. The second greatest story is triumph over evil and malevolence. Tragedy is the greater because it is a completely inescapable part of life. Life is inherently tragic. The pursuit of values that are transient, the desperate attempt to stay alive, achieve values, and protect values, in the face of the indifferent universe which will eventually take everything away whether through evil, or just through entropy.

The thing is, this story had both going for it. The young boy dies near the beginning and it is quite tragic. The girl can't handle life and runs away. This is tragic. She is kidnapped, this is tragic by people that are evil and malevolent. Then the father has to go on a killing spree to get her back, this is tragic and malevolent (both from other people and his confrontation with his own malevolence and past) throughout the entire thing. This movie could have gone in either of two directions and been better.

1 - They could have just left that part about the fake hanging out. It wasn't needed. The father and daughter come home, they find the wife sitting at the table, or crying over the boys grave, or whatever, and they have a happy reunion. Happy ending, it's great, awesome movie.

2 - They could have had the mom hang herself. The father and daughter come home, moms not around. The daughter goes to check the barn and there's mom hanging from a rafter. This is epically tragic. I think this would have been a great ending. Super tragic, yes, but a great tragedy.

Now, everyone I've told this to has the first reaction of saying that they don't like tragedies. And, some don't. My dad doesn't care for tragic endings, (I assume because, like me, he has a natural tendency towards a rather tragic and depressing view of life). But most people do have a tragic ending that they like. Jack dies at the end of "Titanic", and it's better that way. Most people probably have a few tragic endings that they like.

When I was in Colorado for alligator wrestling last month I stayed with Wendy through Airbnb. One night we stayed up talking about all sorts of stuff from history to movies. This came up. She doesn't like movies with tragic endings. That is, until she realized that there were a number of movies that she could think of which had tragic endings and they were some of her favorite movies. This is common. People like happy endings, people also like tragic endings. What people don't like is a fake deceptive ending. Surprising is fine, even good, fake is not.

It would be interesting for me to do a rewrite of that ending, because if in 5 or 10 years someone wants to do a remake this is one of those times where the remake could be better than the original. I'm not sure if I'll do that, but it should be done. It would be hard to live up to the rest of the movie though, because it was excellently done. So the acting and directing would be challenging indeed. Maybe, maybe.

Here's that logline for "The Wizard of Oz".

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Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

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I've read some unusual things about that story over time. The castle is based on a partial castle in Holland, Michigan, which is near where I grew up. That was just the first book, it's actually a 15 book series. The writer wanted to stop writing the series, but he got so many written requests to continue it that he kept going. I've heard it proposed that "The Wizard of Oz" is the only original American fairy-tale. Also, I heard a rumor that the whole thing is a political allegory. All stories have a story.


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