The Dead Girl: Harrowing portrait of prostitution is must-see film

Seeing as it was released in 2006, odds are you won’t find The Dead Girl on most store shelves, maybe the big chains. Go out of your way to watch it. However you movie shop, checking DVDs out of the library, ordering them through some online service or other, put in a special request.

The film is a stark, disturbingly powerful look at the life and death of a runaway. It brings home with chilling force the reality of what happens when a girl is forced on to the street and comes to subsist the most common way a young woman does — peddling her body in dirty, dangerous circumstances.

People who go around mouthing the pat phrase that prostitution is a victimless crime owe it to themselves to watch The Dead Girl as a wake-up call. The experience will disabuse anyone of the notion that nobody gets hurt. Think. There isn’t a single female who, in her tender years, dreamt of growing up to be a hooker. When abuse at home — sexual abuse, beatings, both — becomes too much to bear the abuse is just that, too much to bear. It sends the kid fleeing into a situation she never bargained on, one by which she has scant choice but to immerse herself in a dehumanizing lifestyle.

Victimless? Not by a long shot. Even if she doesn’t wind up a body in some dumpster. Even if she’s not stabbed to death in some rundown motel. She doesn’t have to be murdered. She can walk around, usually drugged to dull the mental anguish and emotional agony of what she’s going through, growing into a hard mental case. Way before her time.

The Dead Girl, artfully scripted, masterfully directed with an incredible cast, centers on “Krista,” spirited, warmhearted and, when she needs to be, tough as a nickel steak. When this vivacious, volatile 20-something woman-child ends up butchered, left to rot in a landfill, a saga begins of the lives she directly and indirectly impacted.

It carries you on a tortuous account and culminates in a soul-crushing climax to deliver the strong message better than could a dozen documentaries and public service announcements put together: These gals we see on the stroll are human beings, complete with hearts, souls and desperate dreams of their own, not portable objects of gratification.

Screenwriter-director Karen Moncrieff draws compelling characters to fuel a fascinating story. Brittany Murphy is dead-on as “Krista,” affording riveting, at times seething, immediacy.

Kerry Washington gets to give the performance of a career. When her agent told her Moncrieff wanted her to play a ho’, Washington likely wrinkled her nose with not the least desire to be yet another woman of color hired to portray a dimensionless, stereotypical street walker. She probably had no idea how much depth had gone into creating “Rosetta,” a cruelly abused, hard-bit, Puerto Rican veteran of the asphalt warring to hold on to her humanity. Washington floors you, rendering this embattled woman tragically true-to-life.

Toni Collette, Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Brolin, Marcia Gay Harden, Rose Byrne and more fill out the ensemble, gifted artists to a one, working with superb material.

The Dead Girl can’t be called, it goes without saying, family viewing. It has too much grit, too much real life to it. Which is why it’s a movie everyone in the family should see. Might help the chances that the next runaway to be claimed by the streets isn’t in your house this minute.

It’s a social statement-cum-cinematic experience that can’t help but create conversation. You don’t live with your family? Watch the movie, anyway. You’ll enjoy excellent writing, directing and acting, and what’s it going to hurt to have your eyes opened to grisly aspects of a serious problem?

Dwight Hobbes contributes the commentary ”Hobbes in the House” to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and the TV show Spectator on the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network (Comcast Cable Ch. 17). He welcomes reader responses to