Review: Traffic (US miniseries version)

A spin-off of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (which was itself a remake of the 1989 British miniseries Traffik), this 2004 American TV miniseries takes on all aspects of a heroin-related crime ring – dealers, users, mules, and police officers – and then hones in on individual lives in this scene. As if this wasn’t enough, it also weaves in aspects of biological warfare, terrorism, illegal immigration, and government operations. It’s a lot to ask but Traffic handles its complex plot and intricacies very well.

To its credit, the series uses its exorbitant running time to show that things are hardly ever what they seem and nothing is simple. But scattered, jumpy scenes and seemingly unrelated characters make the first half drag at times. Yes, there’s loads of entertaining action and conflict, but in the first hour the actors don’t seem particularly settled in their roles. It also takes a little longer than usual to establish the characters and their priorities, and even longer to decipher any relationship between the scenes.

You have to have faith that this miniseries is going somewhere (and it is), because if your mind wanders for a few scenes, you’ll never catch up. Most of the characters never meet or even encounter each other at all, yet their lives are all intertwined in strange and creative ways.

With such a big cast, it’s impressive that the main characters are all important to the plot. The one exception would be Angie, the creepy, sex-and-drug-pushing neighbor of the D.E.A. agent’s family. Drug-addict Angie serves to connect the main characters (yet again) to heroin, but her role is more annoying than successfully corrupting. Her sudden disappearance from the series further highlights how unnecessary and weird her character really is. The relationship that develops between Angie and the agent’s son would have been better left out of the script.

Despite the shaky start, Traffic’s second half is fascinating and much more riveting. Once you’re up and running with the characters, you’ll be completely sucked into the last two hours. The ending is abrupt and somewhat anti-climactic, with almost none of the loose ends in any scenario tied up. While that would be deplorable in other programs of this nature, it somehow works here.

As it stands, Traffic is an exciting and creative portrayal of the people and complexities involved in stopping the global ebb and flow of illegal trafficable commodities, be they powders, weapons, or people.