Traffic

"Weak"

Traffic Review


"Traffic" is a socially and politically grandstanding soap opera about the narcotics trade and the futility of the "war on drugs." It's a film about how that war is propagated by bureaucratic demagogues in the United States government, not because they think they can stem the flow of illegal substances but because they think saying they want to is a way to win elections.

OK. Point taken.

"Traffic" is also gritty and realistic feat of cinematic logistics, following no less than 15 major characters (and more than 50 speaking parts) through several complex, well-acted storylines about all sides of the drug trade -- from kingpins to cops to policy wonks to addicts. So my hat is off to the picture's ever-brilliant director, Steven Soderbergh ("Erin Brockovich"), who certainly does a fine juggling act, involving the audience in every story on a personal level.

Part of the film is about a Mexican narc (Benicio Del Toro) navigating a crooked justice system and struggling with the enticements of corruption. Another follows a new US drug czar (Michael Douglas) so out of touch with his teenage daughter he doesn't realize she is becoming an addict herself. Yet another focuses on the naive wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of a recently busted San Diego drug trafficker, the DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who brought him down and the reluctant key witness (Miguel Ferrer) they are protecting.

But this multi-narrative message-heavy epic is often so busy peddling smug political proclamations and milking dubious (if not implausible) melodramatic ironies that it is severely undermined by its failure to build credibility into the courses chosen by two pivotal characters:

1) The drug czar's pretty teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) and her affluent private school pals are presented as freebasing cokeheads without any kind of backstory or explanation of what drove this otherwise normal girl to such an extreme addiction. The girl is nothing more than a plot device and a fabricated juxtaposition of her square but stalwart father.

2) I don't buy for a second that kingpin's wife, played by Zeta-Jones, would be so utterly clueless as to be stunned by her husband's arrest. What did she think he did for a living? And just as I decided to let that slide, the character does this absurd 180, trying to grab the reigns of the crumbling drug empire, and becoming -- quite literally overnight -- a ruthless and savvy operator, ordering assassinations and driving hard bargains with suppliers. And all this while she's also persevering against the cops and being a good mother to her cherished young son.

These unfortunately insurmountable fallacies arise largely because "Traffic" is a two-and-a-half hour film whittled down from a much longer miniseries that ran on British television in the 1980s. Soderbergh doesn't have the time to really explore his characters in this otherwise accomplished, perceptive and technically impeccable film.

The director's seemingly effortless balance between guerilla-style filmmaking (shot with handheld digital cameras using available light) and Hollywood polish (the film doesn't look or feel like pretentious art house fare) gives "Traffic" an accessibility and a striking sense of realism. His innate ability to garner intimate, penetrating performances from his actors helps make all the interweaving subplots reasonably absorbing.

And the film does make resounding points about our government's supply-side approach to battling the drug problem. During an airborne policy meeting with advisers from the DEA and other agencies, Douglas the drug czar blows up, demanding, "I want to know why there isn't anybody from treatment on this plane!" Amen to that.

But "Traffic" walks a fine line between conscientious social commentary and pompous political drum beating, at times virtually elbowing the audience as if to say "what a profound statement we're making, huh?" It's precisely at such self-cognizant moments the film begins to feel more like a goulash of after school special, sorrows-of-addiction weepy, post-"Pulp Fiction" festival indie, Tom Clancy novel and estranged father-daughter day on "Jerry Springer."



Traffic

Facts and Figures

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 147 mins

In Theaters: Friday 5th January 2001

Box Office USA: $123.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $207.5M

Budget: $48M

Distributed by: USA Films

Production compaines: Bedford Falls Productions, USA Films, Initial Entertainment Group (IEG)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 143 Rotten: 12

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Robert Wakefield, as Javier Rodriguez, as Manolo Sanchez, as Gen. Arturo Salazar, Russell G. Jones as Mark, as Lawery Rodman, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Helena Ayala, as Arnie Metzger, as Caroline Wakefield, as Montel Gordon, as Helena's Friend, as Juan Obregón, as Eduardo Ruiz

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

Advertisement
The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.