Intertwining vignettes frame this tale of America's escalating War on Drugs. Ohio Supreme Court judge Robert Wakefield has been appointed the nation's Drug Czar, his new position made more daunting by the discovery that his teenage daughter Caroline is a heroin addict. Meanwhile, DEA agents Montel Gordon and Ray Castro are pursuing Helena Ayala, wife of jailed kingpin Carlos Ayala, as she seeks to the control the business that her husband had kept hidden from her. South of the Border, duplicious local constable Javier Rodriguez is fighting the battle with his own jaded, questionable ethical code.
Featuring a huge cast of characters, the ambitious and breathtakingTraffic
is a tapestry of three separate stories woven together by a common theme: the war on drugs. In Ohio, there's the newly appointed government drug czar (Michael Douglas) who realizes after he's accepted the job that he may have gotten into a no-win situation. Not only that, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) is herself quietly developing a nasty addiction problem. In San Diego, a drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) is arrested on information provided by an informant (Miguel Ferrer) who was nabbed by two undercover detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán). The kingpin's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), heretofore ignorant of where her husband's wealth comes from, gets a crash course in the drug business and its nasty side effects. And south of the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) finds himself caught between both his home country and the U.S., as corrupt government officials duke it out with the drug cartel for control of trafficking various drugs back and forth across the border.
Bold in scope, Traffic showcases Steven Soderbergh at the top of his game, directing a peerless ensemble cast in a gritty, multifaceted tale that will captivate you from beginning to end. Utilizing the no-frills techniques of the Dogme 95 school, Soderbergh enhances his hand-held filming with imaginative editing and film-stock manipulation that eerily captures the atmosphere of each location: a washed-out, grainy Mexico; a blue and chilly Ohio; and a sleek, sun-dappled San Diego. But Traffic is more than a film-school exercise. Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (adapting the British TV miniseries Traffik to the U.S.) seamlessly weave the threads of each separate plotline into one solid tale, with the actions of one plot having quiet repercussions on the other two. And if you needed more proof that Soderbergh takes unparalleled care with his actors, practically all the members of this cast turn in their best work ever, the standout being an Oscar-worthy Del Toro as the conflicted moral conscience of the film. While no story is fully resolved in the film, you'll be haunted by these characters days after you've seen the film. By far one of the best movies of 2000. --Mark Englehart