Traffik (1989)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Addiction Drama  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |  
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Though it's less stylish than Steven Soderbergh's big-screen version, the original miniseries Traffik displays more nuance and detail than the shorter, star-laden Oscar-winning remake. Writer Simon Moore's expansive script takes in more layers of the drug trade -- from the journalists who cover it and the dirt-poor farmers whose labor powers it to the street dealers who are far more prevalent than the preppie thrill-seekers of Soderbergh's version. Although the film is shot in a naturalistic palette, Traffik is not without a certain visual flair; the sequences set in Pakistan in particular introduce viewers forcefully to the mixture of beauty and squalor that serves as a backdrop to the genesis of narcotics production. Traffic does little to question the moral rightness of the American "war on drugs," but Traffik, by highlighting the economic and cultural realities of the developing world, paints a less cut-and-dry portrait of this international phenomenon. Bill Paterson's Jack Lithgow proves a less familiar, more human protagonist than Michael Douglas' grand standing drug czar, while Linda Bassett gets more to work with than Amy Irving does in the part of the government official's wife. All of the principals, in fact, acquit themselves admirably even when the writing reveals its television origins. It doesn't have the sparkle of a Hollywood showpiece, but in its place we get a script with a lot more gray areas, and a glimpse at the drug trade half a world away from our own backyard. In fact, the European and South Asian settings guarantee that Traffik will seem fresh even to rabid fans of the celebrated Traffic.