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DVD Review: Traffik – 20th Anniversary Edition

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Written by Caballero Oscuro

Before Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winner Traffic, there was Traffik. This highly regarded six-hour British miniseries covered the same ground as Soderberg’s film, tracking the global drug trade across international borders. In fact, the basic framework and many key scenes are identical, with one notable difference: where Traffic followed the cocaine trade between Mexico and the U.S., Traffik patrols the movement of heroin through Europe and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

The miniseries follows three primary storylines: a British minister tasked with limiting the drug trade in his country while concurrently dealing with his heroin-addicted teenage daughter, a wealthy wife forced to come to terms with her husband’s drug business during his incarceration, and a Pakistani farmer forced to work for the local drug lord. The acting performances are uniformly powerful, with the added bonus of Julia Ormond’s breakout performance as the drug-addict daughter. The Pakistani farmer’s story is particularly memorable as it follows his path from fairly honest poppy farmer to drug lord acolyte to his heartbreaking and inevitable fall from grace. Although the story is told over a much larger film length than Traffic thanks to its miniseries format, it never loses momentum and in fact left me wondering how Soderbergh later managed to fit all of the key elements into his feature-length production.

As for image quality, the picture and sound are about what one might expect of a 20-year-old UK TV production. In other words, not great. The series was apparently remastered for this 20th anniversary release, but with fairly dodgy source material there’s only so much it could be enhanced. However, the quality does not detract from the power of the work, and surprisingly the subject matter of the miniseries doesn’t seem dated in the least. That’s almost certainly a discouraging sign for anti-drug crusaders out there, but also fascinating viewing as we see just how little has changed in the past two decades.

The miniseries was filmed on location in Pakistan, Hamburg, and London, giving the series a much more expansive feel than one might expect from a TV production. The DVD release doesn’t pack much in the way of bonus material, including only an extended (and unremastered) UK version of episode 6, a photo gallery, production notes, cast filmographies, and an interview with writer Simon Moore. Traffik is now available on DVD.

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