Traffic Movie Review
A harrowing and thought-provoking film, Traffic revolves around three intertwining stories of cops, thugs, victims, enforcers, politicians, and the judicial system. The film is based on a British Channel 4 miniseries called Traffik, which traced a drug route from Pakistan through Europe and to Great Britain. Laura Bickford, one of the producers for Traffic, was attracted to the original miniseries because of the intersecting stories, the social commentary on drug usage, and the implication of The System itself being the major perpetrator of drug addiction.
The film revolves around three disparate stories, which Soderbergh handles with aplomb. One story centers on Tijuana State policeman Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and his partner, Manolo, caught in a web of political corruption centered on the Mexican drug trade. Del Toro is a standout, delivering a subtle, powerful performance rich with authenticity.
A second story centers on Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), the U.S. President's newly appointed drug czar whose daughter Caroline (played by newcomer Erika Christensen), an A+ student, develops a drug problem that turns from occasional use to severe addiction. This story focuses on the impact of drugs on the nuclear family and the general inability of the family to protect itself. Douglas and Amy Irving (as Wakefield's wife) turn in wonderful performances as quiet, concerned parents who are powerless to stop their daughter's fall into drug use.
Finally, the third story revolves around the actual purveyors of drugs and the law enforcers determined to put them out of business. The story is anchored by Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of major San Diego drug baron Carlos (Steven Bauer). Unaware of her husband's illicit business, she enlists the aid of her husband's attorney Arnie Metzger (Dennis Quaid playing a slime ball) to get him out of jail -- even if it means taking over the business.
All of these stories add up to make Traffic one of the best films of 2000.
Soderbergh's deft directing and cinematography work give each section of the film a unique look and feel. The Mexican landscape is overexposed and enriched with sepia tones. The home of Douglas and the government agencies are a cool-blue color in sharp contrast. San Diego has a warm glow to its environment and its population. Whenever characters from each of the stories intersect, things get really spicy.
Traffic tackles tough situations and still delivers a solid, complex tale filled with thrilling moments and heart-wrenching drama. The film doesn't deliver a solution for ending the war on drugs, but it does offer insight into the business. As a tale about the most self-destructive part of society, Soderbergh has created nothing short of a masterpiece.