URBAN TRAFFIK opens with ruggedly handsome Adam (Damien Guiden) picking up homeless brunette Sue (Camila Correa Soya) in a Dublin cafe. He takes her back to his bedsit for warmth and a chat, where she candidly tells him her life story - how she's travelled to the city to "find herself" after leaving her parents' home under a dark cloud, and so on. He offers her a place to stay ... and inevitably he's shagging her a short while later.
If any of this sounds remotely romantic to you, think again. Adam is part of a well-oiled syndicate ran by Russell Crowe lookalike Dan (Anthony Kirwan). Dan's business is human trafficking.
It's a trade he oversees from his plush suburban home, as his right-hand-woman Alex (Kojii Helnwein) takes orders from him and tries to keep his two witless lackeys - Frankie (Jordan Rennix) and Purcell (Stevie Greaney) - in line.
Their method of acquisition is quite simple: Adam picks up attractive strays from off the street. After having had his wicked way with them - a perk of the job, we're told - Alex supervises as Frankie and Purcell collect the girls from Adam's bedsit and hold them for a couple of weeks (where "punters" are welcome to test the merchandise, so long as they don't leave bruises) before selling them on to the International trafficking market as sex slaves.
So, now you know what fate awaits poor Sue.
Having run this racket for four years, this team are nothing if not organised. But all of that is about to change. For a start, Alex doesn't take kindly to overhearing Frankie and Purcell gossiping about how Adam gets to fuck the girls. Adam is, after all, her partner. Not any more, as she kicks him out of her apartment without hesitation.
Works goes on regardless. And that's where the next complication arises: Adam picks up destitute Amy (Clare Murray) in the local park and takes her back to his fake bedsit, where she begins to tell him about her years of living on the streets ... and he develops feelings towards her.
Is that awkward enough for Adam? No? Well, how about this: unbeknownst to him, his boss Dan is sleeping with his sister Annie (Claire Blennerhassett). Annie still lives in the family home, tending to her and Adam's dad's (George Bracebridge) needs. The dad has been left paralysed since suffering a severe beating which led to a stroke. By the sound of it, he deserved it: he was a violent man who raped his wife and daughters. Incidentally, it was Dan who gave him his life-changing hiding several years ago, effectively saving Annie's life...
While Dan plots to take Annie away from her humdrum life, Adam's life spirals further out of control as he tries to sever ties with a job he no longer has the heart for. From the offset, a happy ending seems incredibly doubtful...
URBAN TRAFFIK is the latest film from prolific writer-director Jason Figgis (CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN; THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN). Whereas those films were clearly defined horror pictures, this latest venture takes on gritty drama not too dissimilar in delivery to Paul Andrew Williams' impressive 2006 feature debut LONDON TO BRIGHTON.
Performances are strong throughout. This is a relief, not only because the film is largely reliant on its conversational set-pieces, but because in the hands of lesser actors, characters like Adam and Alex would be thoroughly unlikeable. In fact, none of the characters in URBAN TRAFFIK - barring those of Sue and Amy - are worthy of your sympathy. But, thanks to Figgis' writing and the deftness of Guiden, Blennerhassett, Kirwan et al, we do grow to empathise with these miscreants.
Just as much attention is taken into the beautifully filmed wide compositions. Each scene is meticulously framed for maximum atmosphere and impact. Though stunning to look at, Figgis' script is tight and involving enough to ensure the gorgeous photography (courtesy of Alan Rogers) never eclipses the straightforward, constantly moving drama.
A nice paradoxical touch to the film's Úlan is the way URBAN TRAFFIK visually captures Dublin's dark underbelly. This is no advert for holidays over there, as the focus is on backstreets filled with graffiti, dull grey exteriors and grotty undecorated interiors. Quiet on the streets, cold on the beach, grim in its continual squalor - the hopelessness is tangible from the opening minutes onwards.
URBAN TRAFFIK moves briskly despite its bleak tone and feels relatively short at 82 minutes in length. The expositional dialogue is perhaps at times a little heavy-handed at times, but the benefit of this is that it helps explain who's who while keeping the pace taut. Michael Richard Plowman's score aids in creating atmosphere in abundance along the way, whether it be during the quieter contemplative moments or a violent TAXI DRIVER-esque later sequence.
Certainly, things do get bloody as we hit the final act. It all feels like a natural conclusion, given the harsh existences of these characters up until this point. But it's still not an easy watch once well-written characters start getting hurt.
URBAN TRAFFIK doesn't comment a great deal on the subject of human trafficking. It doesn't need to, surely: slavery is bad, etc. Rather, it focuses on what motivates a fictional small-time organisation behind it in Dublin. And this it does extremely well.
We were lucky enough to be invited to view an early online screener via a Vimeo link for URBAN TRAFFIK. The film was presented in 2.35:1 and, shot in HD, looked wonderful - all warm natural colours and pin-sharp images. English audio was similarly clear and robust throughout.
Definitely one to look out for when it receives its inevitable commercial release, URBAN TRAFFIK proves yet again that Jason Figgis is one of the most exciting indie filmmakers of the moment.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Written and Directed by Jason Figgis|