81 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Drama, Important Film
To say that this is a film with a message would be an understatement, because it comes across so emphatically clear and succinct, and it is this: To wage a war against drugs, you must first come to terms with the sobering fact that the enemy is often a member of your own family; and how do you wage a war against your own family? A sobering message? Insightful? Indeed...
Published on February 24, 2001 by Reviewer
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What was all the fuss about?
I had read recently that members of the US Congress were making use of this movie to re-visit the policies of the War on Drugs. If our congressmen see these hackneyed themes as major revelations, that is indeed frightening.
A few years back there was mini-series on Masterpiece Theater that, I assume, was based on the same novel, as the stories were almost identical...
Published on July 7, 2001 by LaLoren
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81 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Drama, Important Film,
To say that this is a film with a message would be an understatement, because it comes across so emphatically clear and succinct, and it is this: To wage a war against drugs, you must first come to terms with the sobering fact that the enemy is often a member of your own family; and how do you wage a war against your own family? A sobering message? Insightful? Indeed. And, when you consider the implications of it all, devastating. Ponder that awhile and you'll begin to get a sense of the futility visited upon those who would attempt to rectify a situation that affects practically everyone everywhere sooner or later, either directly or indirectly; and it is just that situation that is addressed and presented with no-holds-barred by director Steven Soderbergh in his brilliant, hard hitting film, "Traffic," starring Michael Douglas and Benicio Del Toro. The film examines the trafficking of drugs between Mexico and the United States, and the long-ranging effects thereof; and Soderbergh tells the story through a number of perspectives, which effectively presents the "big picture" of the drug trade and the subsequent impact it all has on the lives of so many people.
Probably the most telling perspective in terms of futility is that which is shown through the eyes of Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a judge who is appointed the country's "Drug Czar," and given the task of "making a difference." It's a pivotal character inasmuch as it is through his involvement that so much information is presented, not all of which is anything new, but when taken within the context of the story has a tremendous emotional impact. Through Wakefield, not only is the unbelievably far-reaching problem of illegal drugs illuminated, but the attitudes of all of those it touches on all levels, from the heads of the Mexican cartels to the kids who use and abuse the product made so readily available to them by the drug lords.
A man of principle and high ideals, Wakefield begins by educating and familiarizing himself with all facets of the drug trade. He quickly learns that although he is far from naive in terms of the reality of what he is dealing with, he actually has no concept of the depth and scope of it, like how much better equipped and financed the cartels are than the U.S. Government, for instance. Another troubling aspect of the story involving Wakefield is the lack of respect accorded him by the young people with whom he comes into contact, not only in his official position, but simply as a human being-- especially by his own sixteen-year-old daughter and her "friends." Unfortunately, it realistically reflects an attitude prevalent within a wide faction of our society today; and it's one of the strengths of the film that it can so succinctly capture something so distressing, something that should be of monumental concern to everyone, for it's an integral part of a larger something that touches us all. Also realistically portrayed is Wakefield's reaction to all of this; the helplessness born of the limited ways of combating what he encounters is extremely well realized and conveyed by the film, and it enhances even more that already overpowering sense of futility.
From the Mexican side of the border, the story unfolds through the perspective of Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro), a veteran of the Mexican Highway Patrol; and it's from his side of the fence that we begin to understand the ramifications of the politics, money and power, and ruthlessness that so empowers the cartels. In these segments, the dialogue is in Spanish (with English subtitles), and Soderbergh uses a tint to the film that lends a visual sense of detachment to the action; it's almost like watching an old newsreel, which gives it an air of authenticity that works because it's incorporated with the emotional substance that ultimately provides the real impact.
The superlative cast Soderbergh assembled for this film includes Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Steven Bauer, Jacob Vargas, Erika Christensen, Miguel Ferrer, Amy Irving, Tomas Milian and James Brolin. An important film of gut-wrenching implications and staggering emotional proportions, "Traffic" evokes a sense of futility and loss (especially in the final scenes) that is, at times, overwhelming. It makes you realize just how huge the drug trafficking trade is, and how any efforts to eliminate or even contain it simply pale in the light of it's enormity. It's like a terminal cancer, spreading and eating away at the fabric of our society; a disease that reduces the value of human life to the barest minimum. It's a movie that will affect everyone on a different level emotionally, depending somewhat upon personal experience and frame of reference, but there is no doubt that this is a film that will create a lasting impression on anyone who sees it; but be prepared, for this is powerful drama that elicits a sense of hopelessness which-- I'm sure for many-- may hit just a bit too close to home for comfort.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly rich and provocative story with a very important message,
This review is from: Traffic (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Steven Soderbergh's Traffic is, in my opinion, a well put-together masterpiece. It is a film that truly shows off the talent of its director and its stars in a completely interesting way. The acting is top-notch (be sure to look for Don Cheadle and Louis Guzman as two DEA agents and Steven Bauer as a California drug lord) and the cinematography is excellent. I would easily recommend Traffic to anyone interested in learning how to make a movie. 5 Stars
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Movie that Tops the Rest,
Traffic gives us a very disturbing yet equally true story about what happens to real people in the fight for war on drugs. Traffic tells three stories. About two DEA agents, Don Chealde and Luis Guzman, that are out to stop the "Big Rich Guys" at the to of the food chain. Two Mexican Police Officers that happen upon a large shipment of illegal drugs, Benicio Del Torro. And a newly appointed government official, Michael Douglas, that is there to clean up what his predecessor couldn't do. WIth that said, we are left to director Steven Soderbergh. With his brilliant usage of color and contrast. And his equally astounding talent of editing and shooting this home videoesque film. I was dumbfounded by the sheer tenactiy of the story. So gritty and captivating. It really tells people what they don't want to hear. With such a fabulous cast as this: Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Torro (who should recieve an oscar nomination), Don Chealde, Catherine Zeta Jones, Dennis Quaid, Selma Hyaek, Benjamin Bratt, and Luis Guzman, you can't make a bad movie. So, take my advice and watch this film. It's really that good.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Traffic Is A Winner,
Steven Soderbergh has crafted a visually stunning, deeply moving and intensely brilliant movie in Traffic. The central focus of the film is the drug epidemic in the US and Mexico. He tells three separate stories that are each distinct unto themselves, yet interwoven into a common thread. One story takes place in Mexico and revolves around a cop with a conscious (Benecio Del Toro), the second story takes place in Ohio and Washington and involves the country's new drug czar (Michael Douglas) and the troubles he faces on the job and with his daughter (Ericka Christiansen) who freebases cocaine and descends into a drug addicted hell and the third story takes place in San Diego and involves DEA agents (Don Cheadle & Luis Guzman) trying to take down a big drug trafficker (Stephen Bauer) whose wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) learns the drug trade while he's detained. The film sounds unwielding, but Mr. Soderbergh deftly maneuvers from story to story and you find yourself engrossed in the lives of these characters. Each story is shot in a different style with the Mexico scenes being bright but grainy, the Ohio & Washington scenes in a moody indigo and the San Diego scenes in a sunny, vivid illumination. The cast is full of amazing performances with Mr. Del Toro standing out as the Mexican cop. Most of his dialogue is in Spanish, but it is his expressions that speak volumes. When the camera focuses in on his face, he conveys a sense of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Mr. Del Toro won a well deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2000. Miguel Ferrer is superb as a key witness in the San Diego case who bristles at the DEA agents and offers a chilling description of the drug situation in the country. Mr. Cheadle is fiery as a DEA agent and Mr. Douglas perfectly portrays a man who is trying fight a national war on drugs but is losing a battle at home. Ms. Christiansen is amazing and her descent into complete addiction is frightenly real. The cast is expansive and includes such stars as Albert Finney, Dennis Quaid, Benjamin Bratt, Selma Hayek and Topher Grace in addition to the others. Mr. Soderbergh had a great 2000 with Traffic and Erin Brockovich and he became the first director in sixty years to be nominated for two movies in the same year and he won the Best Director award for this film.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nice, Packed Edition from Criterion,
This review is from: Traffic: The Criterion Collection 2-Disc Special Edition (2000) (DVD)
One of a pair of highly-effective "Drugs `R' Bad" movies from 2000, Traffic bears little resemblance to its more visceral partner, Requiem for a Dream. Where Requiem appealed to emotions and raw gross-out power as junkies descend into inevitability, Traffic, based on the Channel 4 miniseries Traffik, takes a more politicized, intellectual approach to the drug problem and the so-called "War on Drugs." Director Soderbergh weaves three separate stories into a coherent whole: Michael Douglass' newly-appointed "drug czar" judge and his coke-addicted teenaged daughter; Catherine Zeta-Jones' innocent-wife-turned-drug-kingpin, and Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro's Mexican police officer forced to contend with corruption in government and law enforcement on both sides of the border as everyone scrambles for a piece of the drug trade. Traffic manages to communicate its point without self-consciousness, telling the story as a story and allowing the actors to portray subtle, three-dimensional characters instead of the usual anti-drug stereotypes.
Criterion managed to get their hands on the rights to Traffic for an addition to their growing collection, finally giving fans of the movie the edition they deserve. The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks much the same as the old release, and there is still no DTS track, although the DD 5.1 makes full use of all five channels. What Criterion added are extras. Three commentaries, one from composer Cliff Martinez, are the appetizers. The commentaries range from "remember that day of filming" to "this actually happened to X," and offer a healthy balance of information and insight. For the main course, Criterion offers no less than 25 deleted scenes, some of them short, some longer. Round that out with a couple of featurettes, and there is enough here to keep people satisfied for a long time. Casual buyers might balk at the price, but fans should have no problem justifying this purchase.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best films of the year,
There's a scene early in Traffic in which a group of preppy teenagers basically ramble on about nothing and snort cocaine. It's a fascinating, disturbingly gritty, and brutally realistic scene, but it also makes you think about why kids take drugs to begin with. Kids don't shove sticks of marijuana into other kids' mouths and make them take it at gunpoint, like many people think. No, this scene suggests that it's much more casual than that. All these kids, in their isolation and boredom, are connected, and drugs seem to further that connection. These are the kinds of things you think about throughout, and long after, Traffic, Steven Soderburgh's brilliant, gripping, thought-provoking new film that grapples with the drug war. It tells three separate stories (which, since I have limited space, I'm not going to go into; they're posted on the offcial review), and Soderburgh's, working from Stephen Gaughen's taut, brainy, wonderful adaptation of the Brtish miniseries Trffik (which was over six hours long), directs brilliantly. He uses different hues and colors for his different stories (ice blue for Ohio and D.C., sandy yellow for Mexico, etc.), and while it takes a few minutes to adjust to his style (colors, jump cuts, etc.), it ultimately proves to set a magnificent mood and tone for the film. He keeps the two and a half hour film fascinating (compared to the hour and a half Head Over Heels, the time flies), and he juggles his three stories superbly, each of them fascinating as they slowly intertwine. And Soderburgh lets a outstanding cast shine. Douglas, in his second great performance of the year, shines as Robert Wakefield, Erica Krisstensian (sp?), in a brave perforamnce, pulls no punches as Douglas's druggie daughter. Catherine Zeta Jones is a revelation. She is at first tender and vulnerable, slowly becoming a shrewd, ruthless businessman, in a wonderful transformation. Don Cheadle, Luz Guzman, etc.; all outstanding. And Benicio Del Toro, wearing sags under his tired eyes like badges of survival, gives a quietly powerful, deeply haunting performance. But ultimately, this is Soderburgh's film, and he asks many tough questions and tells us a bleak truth: that as long as drugs are woven into the fabric of Americana, as long as there's corruption and greed, as long as there's supply and demand, the drug war can't be won. Yet Soderburgh also implies that the only way to beat drugs is personally, one addict at a time. It's this little ray of sunlight amidst the storm that gives Traffic heart as well as brains, and makes it one of the best pictures of the year. A
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving "Traffic",
2000 was a good year for director Steven Soderbergh. First was the entertaining "Erin Brockovich", then the tense, complicated, well-acted "Traffic", which was probably the best movie of last year and which won Soderbergh the Oscar for Best Director. The plot is constructed of five interlinking sets of people: a newly appointed American drug czar and his family, the Mexican drug cartel, two Tiajuana plainclothes men, a couple of U.S. wiretap specialists, and a wealthy San Diego family whose fortune is a little less than legitimate. Michael Douglas is the star, playing the drug czar who discovers that his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) has been inhaling free base and is hooked. Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman are nicely paired as the eavesdroppers, and Steven Bauer and Catherine Zeta-Jones play the San Diego couple whose lives collapse when an informer names the husband as a leading importer=exporter of illegal drugs. Dennis Quaid,who gets over-the-title billing, is convincing in a small, unsympathetic role as their opportunistic lawyer. Ms Zeta-Jones' character is the most controversial, morphing from suburban mom to Lady Macbeth right before our eyes. But, of course, most of the attention has been focused on Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez, the Mexican cop whose loyalties are constantly being challenged. He deservedly won the Oscar, though in the wrong category. Because his character both opens and ends the story, and because he has (I think) more screen time than Douglas, he should have been nominated for Best Actor. Some of the movie's plot elements, particularly in the second half, don't work. The informer is obviously poisoned by a breakfast that is brought to him while his police escort is in the room. Why would they allow a stranger to serve food to a heavily-protected state witness? (The informer is played by Miguel Ferrer, the son of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney.) Also, I didn't believe the drug czar's aborted acceptance speech for a minute, and his daughter's return from the dead was too pat and painless. But the quiet conclusion, with Javier watching a baseball game, was effective, proving that Stephen Gaghan's screenplay (another Oscar) didn't need a bang-up ending to complete a forceful story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A framework for a greater film,
Drugs are what economists call "demand inelastic". Drugs will be sold, bought, smoked, sniffed, ingested and injected in great numbers, over an astonishingly wide price range. The Third World costs of plantation and delivery make for a most agreeable mark-up when sold at First World prices. Such a profitable enterprise, given the invisible hand of Laissez-faire, would attract ambitious prince-pins to the market, shifting the supply curve to the right (increasing the amount of drugs on the market, lowering the price and making drug dealing, economically, a less rewarding proposition.) So far so capitalist. But what if the whole enterprise were illegal; production and consumption? The price stays high, profit margins bloat, and addicts get fall into depressingly patterned methods of procuring the expensive product. Next time a government tries to help sugarcane farmers they should perhaps consider this novel idea: make sugarcane illegal.
This is, admittedly, a rudimentary assessment of the problem, possibly even wrong on some fundamental level (I don't want any e-mails from angry academics). But the hypothesis is not; drug wars in the first world, driven by narrow-minded moral elitism aggravate the problem. The villain makes the hero, and the drugs czar makes the kingpin. What makes Traffic, Steven Soderbergh's labyrinthine film compelling is trying to separate the villains from the good guys by observing actions and their results. What you're likely to come up with is that "nobody gets away clean". Which is also the film's tagline. Dig in, and you will find two revealing scenes: 1) The newly appointed drug czar, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), in what he thinks is generosity, gathers his team of lawyers and experts and asks them "for this time only" for their ideas. He is greeted with dead silence. 2) A mid-level dealer sits in custody of two agents and explains to them, in a surprisingly eloquent manner, why they are in fact were working for his competition when they arrested him, "you know what the sad thing about is. You know what you're doing and you do it anyway."
The film reportedly has over 100 speaking parts. Soderbergh, who shot it himself, narrows it down to three main threads; in the blue tinted Cincinnati, Ohio, the new drug czar, Douglas, prepares for his high profile job whilst his daughter falls deeper into addiction. The pat moralistic tone of this segment would be purely TV movie if it weren't for the reliability of Douglas and the director's hand-held technique that gives it an immediacy it doesn't deserve. Further west, in brighter San Diego, a rich, pregnant housewife, Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta Jones), is dealing with the fact that her husband is a prominent drug dealer. A journey of self-discovery later, and she goes from being a member of her son's school board to ordering an assassin, over the phone to "Get out of the car and shoot him in the head." By the end of the film, she's still on the school board. Still in San Diego, and closer to the violence are Montel Jordan (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman), two drug agents. Their scenes are rich with humor and warmth that nicely modulates the film. But it is further south, in the bleached, burnt out Mexico that Traffic touches greatness. There, honest Tijuana cop, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) navigates the hazardous "entrepreneurial drug war", quietly but desperately holding on to his dignity. It's a beautiful, expressive and subtle performance. Incidentally, one of the few deserved accolades at the recent Academy Awards.
What Traffic lacks, and what many critics have overlooked, is...anger. Soderbergh displays an uncommon mastery of structure, and style that actually adds to the film. His film is fascinating from start to finish. Something political films share with science fiction films is that they let the viewer see what they never have; what really happens in the corridors of power as opposed to what evil blob really lurks beneath the earth's crust. Burdened with a sense of responsibility, the director tried, perhaps too hard, to be even handed and mature. Isn't the failure of the such an elaborate system worthy of jet black humor? Shouldn't the film go after the targets it reveals to self-aggrandizing and delusional? Watching the Cincinnati segments, I remembered another blue tinted, political film, Michael Mann's The Insider. That film took a tobacco/journalism controversy and transformed into something operatic. By contrast, Traffic, often seems to have its foot on the breaks, refusing to get emotional. Yet I still agree with most critics who call it one of the best films of 2000. Its sheer scale compensates its reserve. For Soderbergh this is worthy return after the nonsensical Erin Brockovich. It is an impressive achievement that would have been a great film had afforded the same insight to its characters that it affords their trade. It is at those times that Traffic could have used a little hit.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soderburgh is amazing....,
This is not an action film. Stallone does not blow up any buildings and Keanu Reeves does not do kung fu (thank god!)....This is an astounding film representing the drug world as it is in the present day. A docu-drama, with amazing performances by all (especially the award winning Benicio del Toro) and brilliantly directed and mostly hand-shot by Soderburgh himself, the film deserved every award and bit of acclaim it got and more!! For anyone so easily distracted by a "mind-boggling" 3 storylines, 3 different tints to the screen, and anything shiny, or who's just lookin for a movie with a perfect ending, this is not your film. Traffic brings up many interesting points about how we are dealing with the drug war, and how everyone is so easily affected. Some bash Traffic for not having a clear answer, and too much irony: Well, there is no clear answer to the drug war, watch the film and you can see that. Listen while the arrested drug-smuggler explains how things are operated, and listen as the teenagers explain how drugs are easier to get than alcohol these days. Its true, and if it makes you re-evaluate the world around you, then good, Traffic has made a start. This is not your average movie, cast or storyline. It stands above the rest of the fast-paced, no-thought-required films of our time, and shouldn't be so easily overlooked because its not directed by Bruckheimer.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a decent effort to condense,
the original five hour BBC mini series into approximately 21/2 hours. Unfortunately this was accomplished at the expense of character development and lack of logic. The complete metamorphosis of the Zeta-Jones character from dependant housewife (albeit upperscale socially) to a ruthless, conniving, avenging "angel" was done too quickly without any time or subtlety allowed to lend at least a modicum of credence to the transformation. All in all, however, it was a very respectable film--well acted and produced. The source from which the plot was taken (BBC Series) was infinitely superior and was superbly acted. Bill Paterson (in the Douglas role) and Lindsay Duncan (Zeta-Jones) were especially effective. Duncan was positively chilling. The film, however, is definitely worth seeing and certainly a lot more adult and satisfying than most Hollywood action flicks. It's obvious that all concerned respected the source material and tried (and mostly succeeded) to present a quality film, esp considering it had to fit into a time frame that most film goers would accept. Another bonus - it had the great Albert Finney in it! Too bad he wasn't given more to do.
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Traffic by Steven Soderbergh (DVD - 2002)