Review: Traffic (2000)

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Traffic

Traffic

Rating

Director

Steven Soderbergh

Screenplay

Stephen Gaghan (Miniseries: Simon Moore)

Length

2h 27m

Starring

Benicio del Toro, Jacob Vargas, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Tomas Milian, Michael Douglas, Amy Irving, Erika Christensen, Topher Grace, D.W. Moffett, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Steven Bauer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Clifton Collins Jr., Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, Peter Riegert, Benjamin Bratt, Viola Davis, John Slattery, James Pickens Jr., Salma Hayek

MPAA Rating

R

Review

Certain directors are able to take a cast of well-known, talented actors and forge a believable ensemble. Steven Soderbergh joins fellow filmmakers Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen and Robert Altman with his handling of the talented cast of “Traffic.”

The film revolves around several stories centered on the suffocating grasp of drugs on American culture. The main story involves Senator Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) and his professional obligation to rid America of its drug problem while struggling to keep his own daughter (Erika Christensen) out of addiction’s ugly hands.

Other key stories surround Mexican cop Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) who’s fight to bring down a vicious drug trafficker is hidden under a compromising attitude; Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose husband is arrested for selling drugs must protect herself and her son from a Mexican drug cartel who wants their money; and two DEA officers, Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and his partner who are forced to shadow Ayala and protect the man who rolled over on her husband.

There’s not a single sour performance in this intriguing character study of the impact of the drug wars on American and Mexican citizens. There are many dark and disturbing images that manage to convey senses of hope and quiet desperation simultaneously.

The performances themselves are superb. Each actor adds significant depth to his or her characters with seemingly little effort. Stephen Gaghan’s screenplay can accept partial responsibility for the acting successes. The film is very realistic; as if what we’re seeing on the screen is actually happening.

Every frame of the film tends to blend into the next with great ease. The film is not only easy to follow, but paced so that even the slowest parts are entertaining. The performances of note included Christensen’s terrifying drug-addicted daughter. Each successive scene she becomes more desperate and despondent. Topher Grace, who plays her boyfriend, is intellectually cynical about everything. His character is a terrific foil for nemesis Douglas.

On the down side, there are a couple of performances that aren’t as emotionally satisfying. Zeta-Jones has moments of brilliance, but every other scene; she reverts to her “Mask of Zorro” naiveté. Beauty, rather than her character’s success or failure, is all that keeps the audience interested. Clifton Collins Jr, who plays the unnecessarily flamboyant gay turncoat Frankie Flowers doesn’t fit well into the film other than as a plot device. Only his scene with Del Toro as a homosexual plaything is worth noticing.

The only other problem with the film is the constant switch between color-tinted and grainy scenes. The cinematographer, with help from the director used different colors and textures to help keep each story separate from the other. Unfortunately, they are too distracting for the audience. Confusion over the usage only draws attention to what is supposed to be one of film’s silent necessities.

“Traffic” is a great morality play on the sensationalism and dangerousness of the drug wars. Each time we see the success and failure of one of the film’s protagonists, we realize how futile our pursuit of justice can be. Even in the darkest times, Soderbergh leaves us with hope that one day, with hard work and diligence, we can strip our country of its drug dependence.

Awards Prospects

A terrific look into the drug scene, there are plenty of reasons to scream Oscar. Unfortunately, the film’s two best chances at awards are for Supporting Actor Del Toro and Adapted Screenplay.

Review Written

March 14, 2001

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