Traffik

The six-part BBC drama that inspired Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning TRAFFIC (2000) tells essentially the same story with different particulars. Where TRAFFIC focuses on cocaine traffic between Mexico and the United States, TRAFFIK follows a path from the opium fields of Pakistan to heroin dealers in Hamburg and junkies in London. And at five-and-a-half...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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The six-part BBC drama that inspired Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning TRAFFIC (2000) tells essentially the same story with different particulars. Where TRAFFIC focuses on cocaine traffic between Mexico and the United States, TRAFFIK follows a path from the opium fields of Pakistan to heroin dealers in Hamburg and junkies in London. And at five-and-a-half hours, the original series is so gripping you not only won't mind how long it is — you'll wish it were longer.

Jack Lithgow (Bill Paterson) has just been named Chairman of Britain's Drug Abuse Committee. The reflexively self-righteous Lithgow is ill-equipped to deal with a problem that's one big, gray quagmire of interconnected social, economic and political causes and effects, none of which lend themselves to black-and-white solutions. Charged with enlisting the Pakistani government's aid in an anti-heroin initiative, with the promise of British economic aid in return, Lithgow quickly learns that poor opium farmers like Fazal (Jamal Shah), who gets entangled with traffickers and pays a terrible price, bear the brunt of the government's eradication efforts. Wealthy and well-connected traffickers like the ruthless Tariq Butt (Talat Hussein) operate with impunity. And Lithgow has no idea that his bright, beautiful daughter (Julia Ormond) has developed an ugly little heroin habit, until she and a bunch of her equally privileged Cambridge friends are arrested. Meanwhile, in Hamburg, wealthy international businessman Karl Rosshalde (George Kukura) is busted on trafficking charges, and his English wife, Helen (Lindsay Duncan), learns what her husband's business really is. Once she gets over the shock of realizing her swank life is paid for in blood, Helen takes a cold, hard look at what she's willing to do to maintain the status quo. The difference between TRAFFIK and TRAFFIC is most apparent in her character's development: Catherine Zeta-Jones's performance in Soderbergh's film is a good one, but her story line is seriously undermined by the shorter running time. Duncan's increasing desperation, her baby steps off the straight-and-narrow, and her gradual transformation from pampered hausfrau to high-level drug smuggler feels utterly, chillingly convincing. TRAFFIK's leisurely virtues are encapsulated in the achingly eloquent scene that finds Lithgow smoking opium beneath a twilight sky in the lawless tribal zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan (locations that took on new significance for Americans after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center), where his own grandfather fought a losing battle with local fighters some 70 years earlier. The slightly headachey feeling produced by watching TRAFFIC unfold at implausible speed disappears here, where the narrative has time to stretch out and breathe. The film sums up the irreconcilable ambiguities of a situation that goes far beyond the problems of junkies and pushers into the paradoxes of an ever smaller and more interconnected world. For all the intractable misery it chronicles, TRAFFIK is a treat: Enthralling while you watch it, thought provoking when it's over.