With Traffik, writer/director Deon Taylor has created a movie that may not be for everyone. Looking to highlight a huge problem in the world right now, this is a film that pulls no punches and makes no apologies for being brutal and bleak when called for. The question is, is this intense journey worth the entrance fee, or is it a trip worth avoiding?
In the opening minutes, we get introduced to Paula Patton’s Brea; a journalist who’s lost her way a little. With her birthday on the horizon, her mechanic partner John (Omar Epps) decides to build her a car and take her away for the weekend to the swanky in-the-hills retreat owned by his sports agent best pal, Darren (Laz Alonso). Unfortunately, a mid-trip stop at a gas station sees a biker gang get a tad antsy with Brea and Darren, and those hog-riding Sons of Anarchy sorts have a whole lot more going on than merely roughing up passers-by. By the time Darren and his girlfriend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez) join them at this isolated dream home, it’s not long before the Luke Goss-led bikers turn up at their door with more than a takeaway delivery. You see, Brea has stumbled across a human trafficking plot that the bikers are involved in, and they will do whatever it takes to make sure that their plan goes ahead without a hitch.
The first thing that will strike you about Traffik is the sleek, stylish eye that Deon Taylor has. Even when it’s simply Brea jogging or sitting down with her boss – played by the ever-brilliant William Fichtner – this is a film that eases you in with a sharp, instinctive and effective approach to matters. As the tale unravels though, the movie becomes a tough watch at times. That’s not to say that the film isn’t a solid effort; more that it’s a hard movie to truly “enjoy”. Once the relative tranquillity of the opening act is out of the way, Traffik grabs you and refuses to let you go through this intense, gruelling, and powerful tale.
Front-and-centre, Paula Patton is absolutely phenomenal as her Brea runs through a whole host of emotions and is well and truly put through the proverbial wringer. This is hands-down Patton’s movie as she puts in a strong, stoic performance at the core of the picture, but that’s not to say she’s the only one putting in an impressive turn; Omar Epps is great as the everyman other half of Brea; Laz Alonso is an utter asshole (in the best possible way) as cocksure, money-driven Darren; Roselyn Sanchez is solid and emotive when allowed to be; and Luke Goss is as cold as a winter’s morning as he clinically puts the wheels in motion to make sure that his endgame isn’t disrupted. Similarly, genre fave William Fichtner is another strong presence, even if his screen time is sadly minimal.
When it comes down to it, Traffik is a film with a strong message and good intentions, although it does sometimes struggle to deal with what it ultimately is. Sure, the core narrative centres on human trafficking, but the film is at one moment a romance-laden movie, at others a chilling grindhouse ‘chase’ picture, at others a home invasion effort, at others a brutal, unrelenting, stalking slasher, and others an exploitation film.
This is an intimate, powerful story, albeit one that wavers a little in how it handles its subject matter and one that may frustrate some with the amount of time it takes to get to its key plot point of human trafficking. There are plenty of moments of impactful, claustrophobic terror that are extremely effective, but then the action will veer off in an altogether different direction in terms of tone and feel. Deon Taylor clearly has a whole lot of ideas for Traffik, just it may have served the film better if a tighter, less erratic structure was put in place. Then again, we guess human trafficking isn’t exactly supposed to be a paint-by-numbers simple affair. At times though, the message tends to get a little lost along the way due to the failure to settle on what set way of approaching the points that are trying to be made.
As mentioned, Traffik is a tough movie to enjoy, per se, but it’s a true roller coaster of a ride that will have you gripped to the edge of your seat. Chilling, stylish, and with some mesmerising performances at its core, this isn’t a film that will be for everyone, particularly if you’re not a fan of slow burning efforts, but there’s plenty on show here to showcase that Deon Taylor isn’t afraid to tackle the tough topics, and he is certainly someone to keep your eye on in the future.
Ultimately less that the sum of its parts, although with a slew of plus points to take away from it, Traffik is a mixed bag whose heart is in the right place, has a breathtaking lead performance, but just seems to struggle with how it connects its dots in terms of structure and tone.
TRAFFIK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DEON TAYLOR / STARRING: PAULA PATTON, OMAR EPPS, LUKE GOSS, LAZ ALONSO, ROSELYN SANCHEZ, WILLIAM FICHTNER / RELEASE DATE: JULY 2ND (VOD), JULY 16TH (DVD)