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Traffik (1989) – DVD Review

Traffik DVD cover art


Written by: Simon Moore
Directed by: Alastair Reid
Starring: Bill Paterson, Lindsay Duncan, Jamal Shah, Fritz Müller-Scherz, Julia Ormond


  • Production Notes
  • Cast and crew filmographies
  • Interviews with Moore and producer Brian Eastman

Released by: Acorn Media
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent it.

Drugs and the people who take them and the war being waged on those people. It’s a big story to be told, with many different sides to deal with–and none of them are pretty. Submitted for your approval: a British government minister (Paterson) assigned to deal with Pakistan, a terrific exporter of heroin to all of Europe; a woman (Duncan) who discovers that the way by which her husband (Knut Hinz) finances their good life is through trafficking the stuff; an opium farmer (Shah) driven out of his given trade by a government who wants to prove to the Brits that they are deserving of monetary aid. How these people’s lives interact with one another across international lines and how they are all affected by humanity’s need to leave one’s cares behind forms the backbone for one helluva sprawling epic.

[ad#longpost]American audiences probably never knew there was anything other than the Soderbergh-directed feature from last year that won Benicio del Toro the Oscar. But often the source material is better, and this case is no exception. Whereas the American version felt constricted by its scope (not to mention its time limit) and hamstrung by its need not to get too down and gritty–this is a British miniseries. So step back. You missed the nailbiting now-what-the-hell-are-they-gonna-do section where Lindsay Duncan’s character has to smuggle a small stash of heroin over borders while every cop in Germany is out for her. You also miss Julia Ormond shooting up in veins in her foot. Ouch. The biggest crime is the replacement of Jamal Shah’s character and storyline with that of del Toro’s (and I’m one of five people on the planet who doesn’t understand why he won the statue–sorry, it just doesn’t wash with me). The guy at the bottom of the drug manufacturing totem pole who is desperate to provide for his family in a place where the government is more concerned with bleeding Britain for money? Oh yeah, that’s a subplot for your arse right there. A Mexican cop between a rock and a hard place just can’t stand up.

The thing takes an investment of time, but it’s quality, so it all pays off. The acting is all very good, the direction is solid, and you skip between three places without ever having to color the entire screen. And of course, that whacked out music is pretty damn eerie, I must admit. I’m always impressed by films that give you the story from all angles, who don’t make easy decisions for you–who just hand you the information and let you see for yourself. And this is one of those.

Julia Ormond in Traffik

Now…you’ll notice I wasn’t too terribly pleased with its DVD presentation. Well, I don’t mind discs that don’t have a great deal of features. Not everything can be done by Criterion, no matter how much I beg. But. If you are going to have a feature, don’t skimp. I was really hacked off that the filmographies in this set covered writer, producer, director and four of the actors. Shah is left off, so are the two actors who played the German police…we got all the English actors but nobody else. Otherwise, the interview with producer and writer is nice. The five screens regarding its translation to Traffic are a bit on the skimpy side as well. It would have been nice to have a bit more information all around.

Is this one of those must-own discs? No. But it’s a damn good presentation of something you might not have been aware of, and they were smart to release it in conjunction with the hoopla about the Americanized version. If you’re a huge Brit fan who gets off on drama and has the money to spare? Sure, spend the coin. But otherwise, rent it.