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Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas)
Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Bencio Del Toro)
Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones)
Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle)
Arnie Metzger (Dennis Quaid)
Barbara Wakefield (Amy Irving)
Caroline Wakefield (Erika Christensen)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh Written by Stephen Gaghan, based on the TV miniseries Traffik
Rated R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence, nudity and some sexuality
Running Time: 140 minutes Distributed by USA Films

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Traffic is an incredible and provocatively layered film. Four intertwining stories make up this film that centers on the drug trade world. First there is the United States’ new drug czar, Robert Wakefield (Douglas), who strides to stop cartels coming from Mexico into the United States. As Robert creates ideas to fight drugs for the country, he is encountered with trying to keep drugs away from his teenage daughter (Christensen). Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Del Toro), who is a sturdy officer of the Tijuana police, that is evolved into a world of corruption and danger with superiors in drug trafficking. In San Diego, a couple of DEA agents (Cheadle and Guzman) bring Carlos Ayala, who is one of the most powerful drug dealers in the country, to trial with a key witness waiting to testify. Ayala’s pregnant wife (Zeta-Jones) becomes determined not to let her husband go to jail, even if it means becoming unlawful herself. All the characters and stories are juggled together to present this powerful film about the war on drugs.

Traffic is one of the best, if not the best film of 2000. It is unlike any film that has ever been created about the fight against drugs. It also has a character carousel that grows strikingly throughout the film.

Steven Soderbergh fablously directs Traffic with many different directorial attributes. His choices are full of over-the-shoulder, objective and subjective shots throughout the film. He distinctly parallels each story together with different filters and color. Examples are that all the scenes in Mexico have a gritty look with mostly yellowish tan colors or lighting. On the other hand, all the scenes with the drug czar Wakefield have a clear lens with cool blue light surrounding the character’s every decision. The colors and lighting works so well in this film in relation to the transitions and sequencing by Soderbergh. The young director also uses obtuse and hidden angles to enhance some of the “police vs. drug dealers” moments. One specific example that takes place in the beginning of the film is when the DEA has a shootout with some members of the drug trade. Soderbergh, probably using a hand-held camera, secludes behind cars, fences and other objects. The shots reflected the shootout from a DEA agent’s point of view. I found this choice to be very similar to Steven Speilberg’s camera work with a soldier’s point of view during the opening beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The film’s stories do jump back and forth constantly, but Soderbergh reflects each one differently and connected. In my opinion, Soderbergh has a good shot at winning an Oscar for his direction in Traffic.

Stephen Gagan based his script for Traffic off of a 1980’s British TV miniseries, which focused on drug traffic from Pakistan to Europe to Great Britain. Gagan’s script focuses on the drugs moving between Mexico and the United States. His storyboard work blends well the movement, users, producers, distributors and enforcers of the drug trade. Each of the stories is given ample attention, without one being the centerpiece of the film. The characters are believable and each one changes in someway by the end of the film, some change for the better, others for the worse. Though drugs are used very explicitly throughout this film, Gagan doesn’t fall into the old trap of showing people taking the drugs for an hour, like some drug films have done in the past. His script touches on an important war going on right now in the world and fills it with emotion, drama and very believable characters.

Every actor in the cast of this film does a fine job. If there is one cast this year that deserves an award for ensemble acting, it is the cast of Traffic. Michael Douglas is essential and keen to the film as the U.S. drug czar Robert Wakefield. Douglas’ wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is endeavoring as the pregnant mother that wants her drug-dealing husband freed from the DEA. One of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, Bencio Del Toro, delivers one of the best performances of the year as the devoted Tijuana policeman facing the world of corruption. Don Cheadle shines once again with his likeable performance as the DEA agent Montel Gordon. Under these titan of performances stood some very good acting by some younger actors. The young ensemble was led by the brilliant in-depth performance by Erika Christensen, who plays czar Wakefield’s drug addicted teenage daughter.

Traffic is a powerful film that is defiantly one of the top films of 2000. In a year when not many films rose to being different in excellence, this film stands on top.

Report Card Grade: A

Beastman’s Movie Reviews
Copyright, 2001 Joseph C. Tucker

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