Clare Murray & Damien Guiden
Stephen Porzio looks at Jason Figgis’ feature Urban Traffik. A seemingly homeless man with a dark intent, faces tough choices in Dublin’s underbelly when a free-spirited, intended victim forces him to revaluate his life.
Urban Traffik is an interesting movie that, for the most part, rises above its low-budget conception. Set in Dublin, it centres upon Adam (Damien Guiden) and Annie (Claire Blennerhasset), two siblings who become embroiled in illegal activity. Adam works as a “runner” for brothel owner, Dan (Anthony Kirwan). His job is to seduce women on the fringes of society into sex work. Meanwhile, Annie, in between taking care of her and Adam’s now paralysed but previously abusive father, begins a relationship with Dan. However, it’s unclear whether she is aware of her lover’s dodgy dealings.
The movie features an unusually murky but peculiarly striking cinematography. There is an emphasis throughout on the graffiti-strewn backstreets of Dublin, which succeeds in conveying how grim post-recession Ireland can be in certain areas of the city. Yet, despite this, the movie manages to catch the viewer off-guard with a handful of eye-catching images, such as these recurring, dream-like tracking shots of the women Adam “recruits” walking through Dublin’s city centre. Also, the scenes of Ireland’s capital at night, where even huge buildings become obscured by the blackness of the night sky, create a real gloomy atmosphere, mirroring the darkness of its central characters’ lives.
Damien Guiden as Adam
There is also a pro-women undercurrent to the movie which unexpectedly sneaks up on the viewer. Despite its story’s focus on women being exchanged like currency, Urban Traffik’s female characters are its most interesting. For a large portion of the drama, one thinks writer-director Jason Figgis is setting up his male protagonist as a potential hero. Adam becomes romantically involved with Amy (Clare Murray) who he had originally planned to sell to his employers, putting him in conflict with Dan. However, although one would think Adam would be the person to make a stand against his boss, he instead falters. It is actually Annie who becomes the heroic figure, taking the step her brother would not. Also, at a time where movies such as Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood still get criticised for the gratuitous nakedness of its female characters, it’s refreshing to see a movie dealing with prostitution to feature little to no nudity and not sexualise the portrayal of its victimised women.
In its final moments, the film’s low-budget roots rare their ugly head. Figgis ends on a climactic moment, evoking memories of the finales of Taxi Driver or even the recent Dheepan. However, he employs slow-motion to such an extent that cheapens the movie’s denouement. That said, I think the reason this scene sticks out so much is because it jars with Figgis’ knack for authenticity. He mines very natural performances from his cast, particularly from Blennerhasset and Murray (who both convey so much sadness with limited screen-time), while the world he creates feels real and lived in. He is clearly a writer-director to watch and with a bigger budget could produce something quite special.
Urban Traffik premiered at the Underground Cinema Film Festival on 11th September 2016