Running In Traffic is Bryan Larkin’s film: he co-wrote the screenplay (itself prompted by incidents in his life), his company Dabhand produced it, and he takes the lead role. Whilst this multi-tasking stunt can be pulled off, my appreciation is that it’s difficult; keeping focus must be a real challenge and retaining objectivity (unless the director is very strong) about the quality of what you’re doing a real problem. I’ve got a feeling that, with Running In Traffic, Bryan Larkin was intent on wearing one hat too many.
The film is set in a pretty careworn and colour-leeched modern day Scotland, and tells the intermeshing stories of factory worker Joe Cullen (played by Larkin), and waitress Kayla Golebiowski (Polish actress Anna Kerth), both of whom have been stricken by grief and are bowed by debts. We follow these two as they struggle to bring order and meaning to their lives and to arrest what seems to be an irresistible (and largely self-inflicted) downward spiral in fortune. In Joe’s case this involves dealing cocaine, and in Kayla’s writing poetry. There also seems to be some sort of a new-age metaphor permeating the story in that whatever happens is for a purpose and is part of some unseen plan… or something.
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Social realism is one thing but successful films of that ilk (Cathy Come Home, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, and Trainspotting come to mind) always have at their heart characters you care about. And this is my major problem with Running In Traffic: I wasn’t drawn into the story because I couldn’t become emotionally involved with either of the two leads. Joe seemed too old and tired to be experiencing so much angst, and Kayla just seemed arbitrary… and the random mood swings her character was subject to didn’t help here either. Both Joe and Kayla were also prone to long periods of intense and silent introspection which, for this reviewer, wasn’t a real grabber.
I think the script could have handled more editing: there are a number of the extraneous scenes/ characters that cried out for deleting and the principal characters needed to be much more tightly defined. Meandering scripts always make a film seem longer than it actually is and I’d judged Running In Traffic to last way beyond its supposed 96 minutes. I’m speculating here but, perhaps the reason it was so loose was that when the scriptwriter is also the producer and the star there are fewer people around with the grunt to criticise.
Of course, there were good things about the film: the camerawork is terrific, the editing (especially in the first 30 minutes, interest seemed to wane after that) exceptional, and the music (except for the larded on piano during the poetry-reading scene which was execrable) excellent. All-in-all Running In Traffic is a film which thinks it’s a little too meaningful for its own good. Only one for lovers of gritty and depressing kitchen-sink drama methinks. Poor sods…