‘Traffik’(1989) vs. ‘Traffic’(2000)

‘Traffik’(1989) ‘Traffic’(2000)

After watching the British version of ‘ Traffik ‘ alongside a broadcast of 2000′s Steven Soderbergh remake , both courtesy of the Sundance Channel, I think I like the original more, even though Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle aren’t in it. The Brits are less black-and-white about the subject – the criminals aren’t all resident aliens, and fewer prominent characters live in the suburbs. Many are ‘respectable’ natural-born citizens, and international monetary policy (read IMF) is as culpable in the propagation of the drug trade as the well-to-do professionals of Southern California. Interesting, isn’t it, how Soderbergh moved the incidence of drug use and propagation out of the ‘Heartland’ of America into those ‘blue’ Gore margins. But we all know who’s catalyzing crystal-meth in Iowa – and his name don’t end with ‘Rodriguez’…

The Soderbergh film is substantially Goddard-ized, and full of editorial commentary, whilst the British made-for-tv version is remarkably ‘pure’. It’s much more like a real documentary – like an early Wenders film – that simply watches it’s protagonists as the story unfolds, and makes no comments. But then the Brits had 6 hours to play with, and Soderbergh only has 2-1/2.

There are currently two cable programs that pick on the lost Soderbergh narrative – HBO’s ‘ The Wire ‘, which follows an ongoing narcotics investigation in Baltimore, MD, and Showtime’s ‘ Street Time ‘ (w/ Rob Morrow of ‘Northern Exposure’ fame), set in a less-than-yuppie, less-than-Hollywood LA. Both of these programs pull the drug issue out of the rarefied realms of the idle rich and the destitute poor, to color the middle-classes. The better program, ‘The Wire’ offers the unspoken truism:”You follow the drugs, and you get a drug dealer; you follow the money, and you don’t know where you’ll end up – a City Councilman, a banker, you don’t know…” – and really, that’s what’s missing from Soderbergh’s list of tropes and exoticisms – the real criminals, like Jefferey Skilling , Ken Lay, Adelphia and WorldCom – are the vaunted business leaders who walk above us, and pocket our politicians. The criminals in ‘The Wire’ are as disciplined and organized as any Fortune 500 company, despite the fact that they make most of their cash operating out of the projects on Baltimore’s West-side. Soderbergh would have you believe that only yuppies and corrupt Mexican Generals could be so efficient.

Showtime’s ‘Street Time’ inverts the equation some, placing Rob Morrow in the role of a parolee trying to make good after incarceration. He’s out after a five year stint, though his brother and brother-in-law escaped the rap an are still plying their hash and marijuana importing concern out of their LA club (An interesting sub-plot indicates that Morrow’s affable retiree parents are unwittingly living off of their sons’ drug money in beautifully gladed Carmel, CA. Presumably, their retirement funds got tanked in the stock market…). Morrow’s got a wife and a kid he’s trying to do well by, but he feels his business partners owe him $1.5mil for the years he spent in the can. On the flip side, his over-eager parole officer (also a family man) has both an ethical streak and a gambling problem. Both are solidly middle-class, though the Morrow character is a bit more bohemian, if not a natural entrepreneur. Morrow’s character is addicted to the dealmaking, but not the drugs.

‘Traffik’(1989) Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
‘Traffic’(2000) Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment