Traffic (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Traffic is a great polemic, a brilliant argument deeply grounded in reality. I feel sure of those things. I agree with its POV, and I found its depictions completely accurate to situations I know of.

Does that make it a good movie? I guess so. It's a movie that makes a very strong, complex, and accurate point, and it does so powerfully and artistically, with a minimum of contrivance. 

There are essentially four stories:

  • Catherine Zeta-Jones is a sheltered upper class wife whose world is shattered by the surprising arrest of her husband. In the course of the film, she is transformed from PTA mom to surrogate drug baron.
  • Benicio DelToro is an essentially honest Mexican cop whose principles are severely tested in the entrepreneurial world of Mexican law enforcement.
  • Ben Cheadle is a federal officer who is trying to bring Zeta-Jones' husband to justice.
  • Michael Douglas is the newly-appointed Drug Czar in the USA, who has to take on the new job at the same time he comes to grips with his own daughter's addiction.
Although they don't really interweave much, the four stories all affect and are affected by certain common events, to some degree or another. For example, the guy Douglas starts to work with on Mexican/USA border traffic, the "Mexican drug czar", turns out to have been crushing one Mexican crime family only because he was in the employ of another, and DelToro is involved in that story. Zeta-Jones is arranging to have the main witness against her husband killed, and Cheadle is involved in that story. Zeta-Jones' husband is involved with the family that the Mexican drug czar is trying to push out, and his arrest was ultimately generated by this squabble. The interconnections are interesting in the big picture, but they aren't really integral to the individual stories. The point is just to show various faces of the drug war, and how the same economic and political forces affect every level of the social sphere in both countries.


female: none

male: Clifton Collins was naked in a chair (goodies strategically hidden) while being interrogated.

The actor who played the daughter's pusher, Vonte Sweet,  was seen naked from behind.

It isn't confusing at all. Director Steven Soderbergh helps us navigate through these stories with a short-cut. He employs a color-scheme technique to tell us instantly when he's changed stories. Suburban Ohio is tinted blue, Tijuana is washed-out sepia/yellow, San Diego natural hues, etc.

I guess my only criticism is that I wasn't really on pins and needles to see how these stories would come out. The movie seemed to be more interested in making its points about the hypocrisy of the drug war than in telling the stories in an entertaining and dramatic way, so I don't rate it too high on the excitement scale. It doesn't build tension traditionally, because every time I'd got involved in one story it would switch to another one, and I had to get going from ground zero again. It seemed to be a doctoral dissertation, summing up the scenes with the proper topic sentences, but not reaching deep into the gut for the emotional truth.

But that's a pretty small criticism, because it has so much more to offer. This is a wide-ranging and powerful film, and I think we should consider it a plus that it doesn't offer much in the way of satisfying easy resolutions, because there just aren't any.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1

  • a documentary on the making of Traffic, and a picture gallery

The acting is quite exceptional. Benicio DelToro was outstanding as the most complex character in the film, the one guy whose shoes we can really walk in. His story was possibly the worst of the four, but he held it all together with his sense of disillusionment. I also enjoyed Manuel Ferrer as the brainy small-time dealer who applied scientific and statistical analysis to dealing, but got caught when he got too greedy.

But I have to be honest. When you come out of this movie you might say, "brainy movie", "damn, he really did his homework", but I didn't feel like saying "I'm going to watch that again".

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half to four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 88. Berardinelli rarely gives four stars, but he chose Traffic in his Top 10 list for 2000.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 92% positive overall, 94% from the top critics.

  • Soderbergh won the Oscar for "Best Director"

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.4 (number 52 of all time), Apollo users 78/100. These scores are consistent with the strong critical consensus.
  • With their dollars ... solid hit. It has grossed $123 million domestically on a budget of $50 million.
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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