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(2000)

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10/10
Traffic delivers a powerful message with impeccable flair.
bigrogges9 January 2001
Early in the year 2000, director Steven Soderbergh's film, Erin Brokovich, sizzled at the box office (bringing in over $130 million) while receiving critical acclaim. Now, with the release of his latest film, Traffic, Soderbergh stands to earn Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture for both of these movies. It's no wonder, either, as Traffic is one of the most gripping films to hit theatres in 2000.

Traffic takes on the complex issues involved with the war on drugs in the United States and Mexico from the view of these nations as a whole to the very personal level. In the film, three stories unfold to illustrate the near impossibility of ever stopping the drug trade, despite the billion dollars that the US spends each year for just that cause. While the tales are related, the characters rarely, if ever, cross paths with one another. This is one of the elements that allows Soderbergh to deliver his message so effectively.

The first story features Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez. A cop in Baja, Mexico, he enforces the law and allows the wheels to be greased from time to time. After pulling off a huge drug bust on the Juarez drug cartel, the powerful General Salazar swoops in to confiscate all of the drugs and the credit. Later, Javier and his partner are recruited by Salazar to fight the war on drugs by aiding him in bringing down the Obregon cartel that has plagued Tijuana for some time.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) of the Ohio Supreme Court is about to be appointed by the President as the nation's new leader in the drug war. For the judge, the drug war is about to become more personal than he could ever have imagined.

In San Diego, Monty (Don Cheadle) and Ray (Luis Guzman) are two federal agents perpetrating a drug bust on a slimy drug supplier named Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer). The events that follow lead them up the drug food chain to Carlos Ayala, a well-to-do suburban man who has been smuggling illegal drugs into the country from Mexico. His arrest leaves his pregnant wife, Helena (Katherine Zeta-Jones, who was really pregnant during the film), to fend for herself while taking care of their son, court costs, and a $3 million dollar debt to the drug lords in Mexico.

Traffic, written by Simon Moore (the writer for the British miniseries, Traffik, upon which this script is based), is superbly crafted and woven. We learn just enough about each character to give us some insight into their motives for the courses they choose to follow. By the films end, matters are not neatly wrapped up; there is not a fairy tale ending. This simply adds to the realism of the issues presented within the movie. Furthermore, the intertwining stories drive home the fact that drugs are closer to you than you think.

The script is bolstered by the phenomenal, ensemble cast. Zeta-Jones and Del Toro have both received Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Actor in a drama for their roles in this film. Don Cheadle is superb in his role. Michael Douglas gives his usual performance while Erika Christensen does a good job as his daughter. Topher Grace (of TV's That 70's Show) is excellent as her upper-class, druggie boyfriend. Dennis Quid's character, while played adequately, is underused.

The stories were shot using various filters and lenses, neatly separating them as the film went from one to another and adding to the viewing pleasure of the movie. Mexico is filmed through a hand held camera and yellow lens to give it a dry, grainy, shaky look that heightens the feel of unrest involved with Del Toro's situation. Douglas' story is initially filmed in a hue of solemn, comforting blue. Zeta-Jones' story is filmed without the use of lenses, suggesting that her situation and actions are the most realistic and achievable of all those presented.

Despite some dialogue that spouts off statistics and seems a bit preachy, Traffic ranks among the top ten films of 2000, surpassing even Soderbergh's other venture, Erin Brokovich. Don't be surprised if this film picks up the Oscar for Best Picture.

By film's end, the message is clear and powerful. The fight against drugs is a long, uphill battle, but it is better than no battle at all.
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10/10
Soderbergh's best film is a thrilling ride...
xraymonkey7119 December 2000
The film more than delivers on every level and is certainly a lock for Best Picture of the year. Soderbergh has been on an astonishing roll, demonstrating exceptional versatility in his choice of genres and tremendous agility in balancing artistry with entertainment. He's been America's most consistently brilliant and unpredictable filmmaker for the last decade, and Traffic is the culminating work of his career. First and foremost, it's a richly entertaining epic that recalls the great works of the 1970s, when directors like Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola engaged mass audiences with works of genuine substance. Soderbergh works on a larger canvass than he's ever done before, bouncing several characters and plot-lines against and off each other, so that images and themes rhyme and echo. Although the subject matter is drug trafficking, this is not an "issues" movie per se. Instead, it's a profoundly affecting dramatic thriller where the destructive forces of drugs cut across different sections of society. What's most impressive about the direction is how Soderbergh manages to avoid both sentimentalizing and moralizing about drugs. As with Erin Brockovich, there's a graceful absence of self-importance and bombast in the presentation. However, this doesn't mean the film lacks a strong point of view.

Stylistically, this film represents a major breakthrough. Soderbergh shot the film himself (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) and Traffic takes all of his past experiments with color, available light, and hand-held work light-years beyond The Limey and Out of Sight. He has created a brilliant style that could best characterized as expressionistic naturalism. His loose hand-held style lends the film an extremely spontaneous realistic tone, but the modifications of color amplify the drama. Each storyline has its own distinct look that accentuates the emotions underlining the film. (The Mexico story involving Benicio Del Toro is told in earthy saturated yellows, the story of Michael Douglas and his daughter Erika Christensen is told in an aquarium blue, while the Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman-Don Cheadle story gets a natural available light look). In addition to being visually striking and cool in a completely unpretentious manner, Soderbergh's camera technique transcends mere virtuosity and actually becomes another character in the film. As usual with Soderbergh, the film is edited with musical verve and skill, where time is collapsed and expanded, and characters are seen reflecting on past actions.

I've been remiss in not discussing the acting earlier. This film has an amazing ensemble cast where everybody is working at the top of their game. However, Benicio Del Toro definitely stands out with the breakthrough performance. I don't think it's accidental that the movie begins and ends with shots of him. He plays Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican police officer caught in a futile and corrupt system, and it's as compelling of a character as Michael Corleone. Del Toro is exceptionally relaxed and subtle, keeping his thoughts and feelings private from the other characters in the films, but sharing it with the camera. Del Toro navigates the audience through a world of impossible choices and moral corruption, quietly simmering with intense conflict just beneath the surface. Benicio's been an indie stalwart for years, but this film should shoot his stock through the roof. If there's justice in this world, he'll be rewarded with Best Actor Awards aplenty.

Michael Douglas is also terrific, adding another strong performance to his gallery of flawed men in power. He shows genuine fear and vulnerability in a harrowing scene in which he searches for his daughter in a drug dealer's den. I've never seen Erika Christensen before, but she makes an impressive debut. Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman (they should star as a team in every movie!) are as loose, limber and spontaneous as ever, providing plenty of comic relief as well as keeping it real. Catherine Zeta-Jones takes a complete 180 from her past roles and admirably plays against her looks, appearing very pregnant while thrown into gritty surroundings. Dennis Quaid is appropriately slimy as a corrupt lawyer.

Anyway, film geeks and anybody else starved for a genuine piece of filmmaking should breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks that Soderbergh has come to save the day.
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9/10
The Real Best Film of 2000
MadReviewer16 July 2001
A dazzlingly complex film, `Traffic' takes a hard, unflinching look at the so-called `war on drugs' that is perfectly clear and uncompromising. Director Steven Soderbergh takes the various viewpoints of the drug culture -- the users, the dealers, the police, and the politicians -- and weaves their differing stories together into a single story that is both deep in its ideas but very simple to understand. In terms of story, direction, and characters, `Traffic' is easily Soderbergh's best film to date, and one of the best films made in recent years, period.

`Traffic' takes a look at the world of drugs through the stories and lives of different characters. Some are loosely connected to one another; some are not. There is the story of Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro), a Mexican policeman struggling to keep his distance from the corruption that seems to follow him everywhere; there is the story of Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) and Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle), two DEA agents trying to turn the low-level drug dealer Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer) against his drug cartel boss; there's the story of Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the unsuspecting wife of the drug cartel boss who suddenly learns who her husband really is and what he does for a living; and then there's the new head of the DEA, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a man so wrapped up in his mission to stop the war on drug, he fails to notice that his own daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is becoming addicted to crack. Much like in the real world, the events of each story directly or indirectly affect the events of the others, leaving all the characters to consider their roles in the drug culture . . . and what, if anything, they can do to change those roles.

In terms of story, `Traffic' is absolutely brilliant. I'm still amazed that the film could cover so many plotlines and dozens of characters so effortlessly. Each story -- whether it's Helena assuming the role of her drug-dealing husband, or Robert canceling DEA meetings so he can deal with his drug-addicted daughter -- is powerful and brutally honest. `Traffic' isn't afraid to look at tough or uncomfortable issues. `Traffic', somewhat surprisingly, never preaches, either -- while it's safe to say that the message of the film is essentially anti-drug, it never comes out and outright says that message. A lesser film would've had some grandiose speech imbedded somewhere in the film denouncing the use of drugs -- not `Traffic'. It's wise enough to let the viewer take what messages they want from the film, without ever preaching. (A minor quibble -- did Michael Douglas' character really have to be the new drug czar of the United States? The fact that he was the top law enforcement drug official in the U.S., and that his daughter was addicted to drug . . . well, it seemed a little too far-fetched, and a little too movie-like. If Mr. Douglas had been playing ONE of the top drug officials in the federal government, instead of THE top official, I would've found his character to be infinitely more believable.)

Soderbergh's also at the top of his game with his direction of `Traffic'. The film is virtually filmed entirely with hand-held camera, giving each and every scene an up-close-and-personal feel. There's also a distinct lack of background music, which lets the viewer feel like they're eavesdropping on real-life scenes, and not just watching a movie. These techniques make for a very personal, intense experience. Soderbergh also uses a technique he's used in some of his other films (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich) -- certain scenes are filtered a specific color, to heighten a mood or a sense of awareness of what's about to happen. The scenes in Mexico featuring the Mexican detective Javier, for example, are all filmed in a very bright, almost disorienting yellow. It's a technique that can be irritating at times, but for the most part, it serves a bold purpose that truly adds to the film.

As for the characters, and the acting . . . jeez, `Traffic' is without a doubt one of the best-cast films of all time. I mean it. There are no weak links, no poorly written characters, and no badly played characters. Each and every character adds something significant to the story in `Traffic', and each and every actor is outstanding. Kudos must go to possibly one of the best ensemble casts of all time. Three actors in particular stand out, though -- Benicio Del Toro (who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance), Don Cheadle (who was actually slightly better than the brilliant performance of Mr. Del Toro, IMHO), and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I'm normally loathe to use the word `flawless' when describing a film, but the casting of `Traffic' was indeed flawless.

`Traffic', with its unflinching look at drug use in America today, can be uncomfortable at times to watch. It certainly can't be termed a `happy' or a `feel-good' film. That doesn't change the fact that it is an amazing, thought-provoking, powerful film -- and without a doubt the best film released in the year 2000. I can't recommend this film enough. Grade: A
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10/10
the best american film of 2000
mkrotov20 January 2001
Traffic is an incredible movie. The director, Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape, out of sight, erin brockovich, etc...) has created a film that combines elements of Hollywood and independent filmmaking. On one hand, he has created an epic that has a very wide scope and has used some famous Hollywood actors. On the other hand, as the cameraman for the film, he has shot it with a handheld camera and and makes the film visually very different from traditional films. He presents the drug war in the United States from three perspectives. The first is of a police officer (superbly played by Benicio del Toro)in Tijuana struggling with the difficult situations that such a job creates in the center of drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States. Catherine Zeta Jones plays the wife of the leader of a drug cartel in San Diego who gets arrested. Once naive about his business, she takes charge of the operations. The third story deals with the appointment of conservative Ohio Supreme Court justice Robert Wakefield, played by Michael Douglas, to the post of drug czar. This occurs while his daughter Caroline, portrayed emotionally by Erika Christensen starts descending into a world of drugs thanks to her boyfriend Seth Abrahams. (Topher Grace from "That 70's Show" plays Seth) These three stories are distinguishable visually. The Tijuana story is shot with different tones of yellow, giving everything that goes on in the story a feel similar to that of a hot desert. The San Diego story has warm soft colors, representing Helena Ayala's (Catherine Zeta Jones' character) once peaceful social soccer mom life. Finally, Cincinatti and Washington, D.C., the cities where the story of the drug czar takes place is shot in a cold blue, giving it an emotionless feel. Despite the importance of the visuals, what makes this film that much better is the fact that Soderbergh does not moralize. There is not an anti-drug stance but there is also not a strong advocacy of legalization. Traffic shows a problem with no current solution. The viewer has to decide for himself. 10/10
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9/10
All you could ask for.
Subir Grewal (subir1)28 January 2001
No compromises here. Traffic takes a long, hard look at the narcotics industry in North America and manages to entertain at the same time. The triple plot allows you to see the whole industry with multiple perspectives. The movie is visually stunning, loved the different filters for the three locations.

That the war on drugs cannot be won, and is hypocritical to boot, is a message that needs as much air-time as it can get.
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Technically great, acting's great, the whole damn thing's great
the_eggman30 March 2001
It certainly has been a good 12 months for director Stephen Soderbergh, hasn't it? Erin Brockovich, probably the most underrated film of last year, eventually got the recognition Soderbergh, Roberts +Co deserved, as did this film, a chilling account of drug trafficking in North and Central America. As seen in 'Erin Brockovich', Soderbergh often deals with people under immense pressure, and this is quite evident here, telling the story of a new US drug control officer (Michael Douglas) whose daughter is rapidly becoming a drug addict (Erika Christensen). It also shows us the struggles of a drug trafficker's society wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose husband is facing a conviction, and also that of a cop accused of corruption. The direction is superb throughout, speaking in tones, very believable tones, and contrasting atmospheres. The portrayal of Mexico, as a behind-the-scenes nightmare world of seediness, humidity (you can almost FEEL the heat) and as a place where one murder matters not, is handled excellently, Soderbergh quite cleverly using sepiatones to convey the mood. This high standard, which is often difficult to maintain in a movie of its length (2 ½ hours) is maintained, and while at times it borders on arty, it is done thoughtfully, incisively and effectively, the scenes of importance delivered in tense, muted tones. Javier Rodriguez's (Benicio Del Toro) character and personality is both strong and incredibly well-acted - the quiet, thick skinned yet razor-sharp mind suiting his environment perfectly, and his acting is often crucial to the moods set in the film, for example in creating the tense, unearthly atmosphere of Mexico. This quiet confidence is also a key part of one of the film's many underlying messages, namely a study in resourcefulness and where it gets us, particularly in Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, a trophy wife of a drug trafficker who is under arrest. Resourceful as she is, it takes her down the darkest and lowest moral alleyways, and this can be compared to 'Erin Brockovich', where another stressed woman used a different kind of soul and fighting spirit to get results. This film also deals with family life, and the movie cliché of 'daddy never being around' is handled exceptionally well. This time the daddy is the newly-instated drugs officer (Michael Douglas) fighting drugs on two fronts: the Mexican Border and his own home, as he struggles to keep his adolescent daughter on the straight and narrow. The characters are all strong and well acted, I can't put my finger on a single bad performance, but Benicio Del Toro is by far the best on show and his Oscar was well deserved. Michael Douglas proves again that he's a class act, as does Catherine Zeta-Jones and strength in depth is clear all round. All in all, then, a great film, combining good acting, clever psychological undertones and classy direction, which particularly stands out. Combining an ability to keep us interested with the snappy, modern style which he has brought to the movies today - this film is a gripping account and a very comprehensive display of Soderbergh's impressive arsenal of film knowledge, understanding and talent.
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9/10
A Sodebergh Binge
Donald Agustamarian1 January 2005
Yep, I'm on a full Sodebergh binge. I've been crazy about him ever since "King of The Hill" and he, very rarely, lets me down. I couldn't say that about many people including siblings and lovers. "Traffic" is not a departure for Sodebergh, all of his films are. He is an artist with a golden touch. He can travel through opposing universes with amazing ease. In "Traffic" the universe is uncomfortable, muddy, almost ugly and yet, it fascinates and attracts with the power of a magic magnet. Benicio del Toro and Erika Christensen are the two inhabitants of this peculiar universe that get under your skin and carry with you as if they were part of a personal experience. No, not if. They do, they are, they become part of a personal experience. The film allows you that. It makes you learn without preaching. How many films today manage that?
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8/10
Soderbergh scores again!
cdh-216 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, "Traffic," covers the US/Mexican War on Drugs-specifically, cocaine-from several different angles. Three separate but interconnected storylines show dealers, users, cops, smugglers, lawyers, government officials-everyone but the South American growers.

We get to hear the arguments on all sides and see the impacts on many people's lives-innocent, guilty, and everywhere in between. But in an early scene when Erika Christensen takes her first hit of freebase, the look of sheer bliss on her face sends the message that this war is already lost. As long as something can give people this kind of high, they won't care about how much it costs them and not all the laws and governments on Earth will keep it from getting to them.

The cast is large, full of good actors in juicy roles-Michael Douglas, Benecio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, to name a few. Newcomers Christensen and Topher Grace stand out as spoiled teenage cokeheads. And if you look carefully, you can spot brief appearances by Albert Finney, Salma Hayek, James Brolin, and Benjamin Bratt. There are also cameos at a cocktail party by a real-life governor and five senators, at least one of whom (Orrin Hatch) has since denounced the film.

Each storyline is photographed in a different style-all shot by Soderbergh himself, with a hand-held camera, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews. Cincinnati and Washington are blue, hard, and cold; Mexico is overexposed, dusty, and brown-filtered; and San Diego is warm and soft-focused. At times I thought the jerky camera movement and jump cut editing started to get pretentiously artsy and distracting, but the story and the characters always pulled me back in.

The script by Stephen Gaghan-based on a 1990 British TV miniseries-may use situations and character types familiar to us from years of TV cop shows and other movies, but Soderbergh and the cast make them seem fresh and exciting again. For a change, style and substance work together, not against each other. It was like when I saw DePalma's "Scarface" or the series "Miami Vice" for the first time.

The only time my credulity was challenged was when drug czar Douglas went looking for his addict daughter in the worst-and apparently all-black-part of Cincinnati, kicking down doors and threatening an armed dealer himself. The guy's supposed to be a popular, hard-nosed, law-and-order judge. Surely he could've found some sympathetic cops to handle the rough stuff for him. This, for me, was the only scene where the movie took a turn for the stupid. And, to the film's credit, this stupid behavior almost gets Douglas killed.

Soderbergh got my attention three years ago with "Out of Sight" and knocked me out again last year with "Erin Brockovich". He fully deserves all the nominations and awards he's been getting lately. >
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8/10
One of the best movies of the year, but not worthy of ALL of its praise. ***1/2 (out of four)
Movie-1228 March 2001
TRAFFIC / (2000) ***1/2 (out of four)

"Traffic" caught some of the most gratifying praise in the year 2000. Does the production live up to its expectations? To some extent. It is not a movie to take the family to on a Sunday afternoon, nor is it an "entertaining" popcorn extravaganza. "Traffic" is one of the best films of the year, but it is not a movie for everyone. I had my fair share of disappointments, and I think many audiences will walk away unsatisfied by its documentary-like style and unusual structure. "Traffic" is still a great achievement in filmmaking and visual style-worthy of some, but not quite all, of its great acclamation.

The movie's director, Steven Soderbergh, won Oscar nominations for both of his movies last year: "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts, and this epic about the never ending war on drugs. That first film is entertaining and charming, but this is far more complex in its story. There are actually three separate plots here, the first detailing two Tijuana cops (Benicio Del Toro and Jacob Vargas) who find themselves in the middle of a corrupt police force, working for Gereal Arturo Salazar (Thomas Milian), Mexico's top drug aggressor who wants to shut down the Tijuana drug cartel by capturing a notorious assassin (Clifton Collins Jr.).

The second story has Michael Douglas as a conservative Ohio State Supreme Court Judge turned nation's new drug czar. He has a savage job, as we can see, but it is even more difficult being the father of a 16-year-old daughter (Erika Christensen), who gets straight A's in school, but uses heavy drugs and eventually prostitutes herself for them when the supply runs low. Amy Irving plays her mother whom herself tried every kind of drug in the market when she was young and thinks her daughter should be given more freedom in this area of maturing. Her husband strongly disagrees.

The third story is a bit more complicated, dealing with the reactions of a typical pregnant homemaker, Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), when she finds out her husband, Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer), is not an executive, but a high-powered drug lord. He is taken into custody when undercover DEA agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luiz Guzman) crack a disreputable drug cartel led by Juan Orbergon (Benjamin Bratt). Helena, with the help from her attorney (Dennis Quaid), must deal with the pressures by her husband's demanding enemies, as well as the DEA. Miguel Ferrer plays the middle-run drug dealer who is captured by the DEA agents and wants immunity for testifying against the high-powered bosses for whom he works.

"Traffic" does not have the harrowing, compassionate, hard-to-watch tone that "Requiem for a Dream" had earlier last year, which also contained three different although parallel stories. That film depicted drug use as personal success followed by desolation and punishment. "Traffic" doesn't really make drugs personal, although the plot featuring Michael Douglas' drug addicted daughter touches on the idea, and the actors do a good job of making the character's attitudes hit home, but the film is more about the war on drugs within America as a country, and how it is a battle not likely to be won anytime soon. The picture does not capture the feeling of the characters like "Requiem for a Dream" did with its highly elaborate styles and camera effects. "Traffic" just isn't as emotionally profound as the much more worthy "Requiem for a Dream."

Steven Soderbergh does manage to capture an inciting style with grainy, high contrast photography exploring the atmosphere of Mexico. He pays attention to even the smallest scenes. Take a scene where the Benicio De Toro character encounters a young married couple who complain about their stolen car. Many directors would have left this scene on the editing tables, or paid less courtesy to it because it is not as important as many other scenes. He gets the right mood, confusion of the characters, all while furthering the development of De Toro's character. Each individual scene here is interesting on its own merit.

A top notch cast contributes superb performances in "Traffic." We expect and receive good performances from actors like Michael Douglas, Amy Irving, Dennis Quaid, Benicio Del Toro, and Albert Finney, but there are also some newcomers who shine with their material, including Erika Christensen and Topher Gracer. The actors really hold our attention, and with a running time of nearly 150 minutes, that is imperative. This film is greatly constructed and perfectly cast-it is the kind of movie in which you walk out of the theater wanting to discuss your opinions about it.
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Soderbergh splashes colors with the dash and power of a Jackson Pollock
Terry Meehan19 January 2001
Traffic (2000)

Like an abstract expressionist master, Steven Soderbergh stands in the center of a canvas that stretches from Cincinnati to Tijuana. He mixes materials and splashes colors with the dash and power of a Jackson Pollock. His materials are skillful acting, lively editing, a dynamic music score, and an unflinching camera. (He did his own lensing, under a pseudonym). The artist's aim? To paint a picture of our country's drug problem.

Scripted by Stephen Gaghan, "Traffic" has its roots in a 1989 British television mini-series, "Traffik," which followed the drug trade from Pakistan to Britain. There are three loosely related stories, each with its own color coding--and as with Pollock, there is nothing random about where the paint splashes upon the canvas.

Blue hues bathe blue bloods in Cincinnati where an Ohio Supreme Court Justice (Michael Douglas) is flattered into taking a job as national drug czar, just as his bright young daughter (Erika Christensen) is seduced into addiction by her prep-school friends.

A rich golden-yellow surrounds San Diego where a comely couple (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Steven Bauer) occupy the upper links of the drug chain and spend ill-gotten cash on clothes, cars and country clubs. They are pursued by two undercover cops (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who spend most of their screen time cooped up in a surveillance van.

In Mexico, a washed-out, burnished brown bespatters a desert of desperation as two Baja policemen (Benicio Del Toro and Jacob Vargas) pull off a major drug bust only to be themselves busted, by a sinister general (Tomas Milian) who notifies them that 'I will take over from here.' Each color signifies its own impenetrable culture, and when Douglas crosses into Mexico to meet his counterpart, we know (but he doesn't) that his fellow drug czar is really a drug lord.

The performances were exceptional, especially considering that no one was given star treatment. Much of the film was shot with existing light and Soderbergh kept the composition wide, letting the actors create their own space. Douglas was surprisingly believable as the would-be czar and bookends an Oscar-worthy year with his scruffy professor in the earlier "Wonder Boys." His real-life wife, Zeta-Jones (carrying their child), gave a quite credible performance as a society snob who turns ruthless when her status is threatened.

Other stand-outs include Christensen's drugged-out daughter, Del Toro's street smart Mexican cop and Cheadle's dedicated drug buster. In fact, there was not a weak performance in the bunch, including crucial cameos by veterans Peter Riegert and Albert Finney. Real people even play roles: Douglas's fictional drug czar confers with real-life senator Orrin Hatch, while actual customs officials relate their day-to-day drug enforcement dilemmas.

Each of the three stories ends with a glimmer of hope. But despite small battles being won, the film's verdict is that the larger war is plainly being lost. As if on cue, White House Director of Drug Policy, Barry McCaffrey, has resigned effective January 6, 2001. The real-life outgoing czar, a former general, has become a vocal supporter of increased funding for treatment programs.

Like Pollock, Soderbergh continues to stretch the boundaries of his art, as he did a dozen years ago with "sex, lies, and videotape," and more recently with the undervalued "The Limey." "Erin Brockovich" though fairly conventional by his standards, nevertheless completes a year any director would envy.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4
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Great film-making, acted out brilliantly.
Michiel Waaijer6 March 2001
Traffic is a fantastic movie. Let's start with saying that.

I just got back from seeing it, and it certainly rates as one of the best story-based drama's I've ever seen. Being a big fan of movies with different storylines overlapping (as Magnolia) I was highly anticipating this movie. And of course the big oscar nominations and the prizes it already won made it even more desirable.

It didn't let me down one bit. The different story's were all excellent. Being that the mexican one was in my opinion the best one. Especially Benicio Del Toro (remember him in Fear and Loathing in Las vegas, the BEST drugs movie ever) being absolutely brilliant. But also the storyline involving Michael Douglas with his problems dealing with a daughter on drugs (well acted out by newcomer Erika Christensen) is remarkable. The topic drugs is clearly highly talked about especially in the United States, and this is actually the first movie which shows all aspects of it. The dealing and smuggling, the addiction, the risks of being a narcotics agent and the political point of view. It's hard to find a film that's so complete, everyone will feel connected to one of the storylines because everyone deals with or has dealt with drugs before, even if it's just a one time mariuhana use. That's why this movie will appeal to a very large crowd.

Anyway when you look at the flaws then maybe some will say that it takes too long, or that some of the scenes are a bit slow. But does everything go fastpaced in real life? It just tries to sketch a realistic view of handling with drugs. And maybe there isn't a lot of action going on, but that's not the goal of the movie.

The only thing I found when watching the movie was that the switching between movielines happened a little too often. I'd preferred if it stayed with one story a little longer. Just a tiny flaw that I personally noted.

Traffic is a film that has to sink in, when you start to think about it it just gets better and better. I can't wait for the official release here in Holland, so that I can see it again.

Oscar for Del Toro in any case !!!!!! And throw in an oscar for best film too. It deserves it.
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5/10
OK, but one enormous flaw
Stephen Bailey23 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The story of a conservative judge appointed to head US drug policy, intertwined with sub-plots involving his own daughter's drug-taking and the criminals actually producing narcotics at the other end, with a sub-plot of an initially innocent woman gradually taking over her husband's drug business. Most people seem to think this film is great. The reason I don't is because I've just seen the European version of Traffic, a TV movie made a year earlier, and it is SO much better. It's impossible not to make comparisons. Michael Douglas is excellent as always in the lead character and so was Peter Reigert (wasted in a small role) but that's about it. If only Catherine Zeta-Jones' talent could match her ambition. Her Welsh/South American accent is laughable. The worst aspect of this film is the superficial "Disneyesque" way it deals with Douglas' daughter's drug-taking. It's a joke. We don't see anything "nasty" and at the end she simply comes back to Daddy and gives up drugs. The Euro version really does show the filth and the squalor and the utter despair of a junkie as the young Oxford student drops out and descends into a life of thievery and prostitution to feed her habit. SO much more convincing. I'm annoyed by this movie because it was made later than the European version and had a much higher budget so it should have been better, and it simply isn't.
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9/10
Thoughtful
Ben Cole13 September 2004
Not your usual thoughtless rubbish. Excellent storyline which I won't spoil. Brilliant cast, particularly like the cop duo of Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman. Michael Douglas is excellent as usual, boy does he have an eye for a good script. He also has an eye for a good woman...Catherine Zeta Jones is rather good in it also. Benicio Del Toro got all the praise he deserved for this film. It is what I like to call a "well screwed together" film. By that I mean all the storyline points have maximum effect due to the quality of acting, music and cinematography. Great use of Brian Eno's music, and effective use of colour filtering to convey mood. Just watch it and be absorbed.

Edit (After having watched the TV Mini-series on which it is based)

I say based but it is mostly a straight copy apart from the Mexico/Pakistan parallel. Whilst my comments about visuals and style still stand, less credit should go to Soderbergh. I'm still a big fan of his but the scope and variety of plot lines and characters come directly from the mini-series.

In conclusion, the film is the series compressed and stylised into a nice bitesized Hollywood chunk. Well done to the teams that produced both film and series.
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Involving, informative and unbiased look at the drug problem
bob the moo8 June 2002
In Mexico Officer Javier Rodriquez Rodriquez is stuck in the middel of a country where the drug dealers and the police work hand in hand and murder is rife. In the USA the head of one of the cartels Javier is trying to close is taken to court by the DEA who have an informant (Eduardo Ruiz) in the custody of Agents Montel Gordon and Ray Castro, leaving his wife, Helena, to take care of his business. Over all this a new drug czar is appointed who begins to find that the war on drugs is not as simple as it seems and that it is a war raged in his own home.

Based on the channel 4 series Traffik this is an open-minded intelligent look at the war on drugs. Looking at the problem across several interlinking stories allows us to hear everyone's side – to see the internal problems in Mexico, to see the futility of the DEA's actions even to see the scope of the problem facing the US political machine as it tries to fight a war against the drugs trade on all sides. The stories are told with out over doing it – action happens without pomp or fanfare, explosions happen in silence, killings are brutal, swift and final. This is not an action movie. The thoughtful nature means the film moves slowly and, if you're not used to following stories then it may frustrate you. However those wishing something to get you thinking, during and after the film should be rewarded.

The film is intelligent far beyond the subject matter. The direction and editing is perfect. The scenes in Mexico are all yellow and washed out – giving a desolate feeling, the scenes in political America are given a blue hue to give a colder, detached feel to the business while the scenes with the DEA are noticeably bright and realistic. This is typical of the intelligence put into the film – it rewards you the more you watch it. The casting is another example of how right the film is.

Del Toro is perfect – he gets the moodiness spot on but also has a fun side to his character. Cheadle and Guzman are as good as they always are and play off each other well – they have an element of the `buddy cop' couple without becoming caricatures. Douglas is really good – how often can you say that!? His young wife is also very good – I expected her to be the weak link but she gave a good performance. These are the main players but really the cast is deep in quality from those that have bigger roles (Quaid, Bratt, Miguel Ferrer) to those that essentially have only a few lines (Albert Finney, Peter Riegert).

The strength of the film is that it lets you work it out yourself. It never goes one way or the other on the drugs issue and leaves you to decide for yourself what should happen. This is rare in an `issue' film and it should be commended. The film allows long silences for us to think but yet is never boring or dull.

Overall this is a really good film. It is shorter and more polished than the mini-series it came from, but it is very intelligently done and is though-provoking. Anyone who thinks they are sure of their stance on drugs should watch this – no matter what you think this will highlight the fact that it is a complex problem to which there is no simple solution. Excellent.
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6/10
Not A Fun Ride To Take In This Traffic, But A Fascinating Trip
ccthemovieman-11 September 2006
This is an ugly story but still fascinating to watch, at least once. I'm not sure about more than twice, at least from my experience. It's too much of a downer to enjoy regularly but I do recommend a minimum of one viewing for the unique way it's presented, especially for those who like a different visual/audio approach.

Like him or not, Michael Douglas usually plays interesting roles and this is no exception. Benicio Del Toro got an Oscar for his role but I don't know why. He wasn't anything that special. Personally, I liked Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman in here better with the latter adding some much-needed humor to the film. Miguel Ferrer was also intense as the bad guy, "Eduardo Ruiz."

The two kids who played Douglas's daughter and her boyfriend (Erika Christensen and Topher Grace, respectively), received no billing on the back on the DVD but they had major roles. They must have done a good job because they really irritated me. Man, I wanted to slap those annoying punks! The girl's descent into drug hell was not pleasant to view. This is not an easy story to watch, or comprehend everything that's going on. It also is not one with a happy message.

On the plus side, the visuals were great with many all-sepia toned scenes, or all blue. Scenes changed every two minutes to a different ongoing. You had to really pay attention but I never found myself drifting away from the story.

It isn't just the unique visuals; it's an interesting and disturbing story.
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7/10
knockoff
wward3563414 March 2012
This movie is a summarical knockoff of the English version "Traffik"; a miniseries from the mid 80s. The miniseries is MUCH better, although a little dated. Traffic omits really cool segments of the drug trade that "Traffik"(English version) covers. If you "really" liked Traffic, then you will like "Traffik" even more.

Traffic DIRECTLY steals from the English predecessor. The dissolving statues. The hit with the poison in the eggs. The drug "czar"'s daughter becoming an addict. However, the English version is VERY detailed in the descriptions of the drug manufacture and smuggling of heroine. The final episode in the English "Traffik" version is Epic compared to Traffic.
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1/10
Mediocre at best
Will Lau10 June 2001
This movie further sustains the fact that no matter what role Douglas plays(with the exception of Falling Down), Douglas acts exactly the same. Its just like the same person with a different name and occupation. His facial expressions for every situation is the same, his actions and reaction for every role, every emotion, every situation that his character faces in every movie is the same. He is Steven Seagull without a pony-tail.

The movie is incredibly over-rated. The direction of Steven Soderberg is grossly over-rated. This movie's plot is too simple, too weak, predictable and too straight forward. There are minor plot curves but like I said they are minor and also few and far between. A general conception of this movie after I watched it and looked at the big picture was to put in as simple a way as possible,(which is fitting for such a simple movie) is that is was "JUST PLAIN BORING".

Catherine Zeta-Jones-Douglas does nothing in this movie. You could of put anybody in that role. The only good out of this movie was the superior acting of Don Cheadle. He is the only person in this lack-luster cast that shines. Which makes me sick to think that it was nominated for a best-movie Oscar. Much worse is the fact that it won best director.

4.5 out of 10- very very ordinary
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1/10
dull and implausible; watch PBS Frontline instead
bobbie-1217 September 2001
This hyped movie was a real dud. As an action movie it is dull, making drug dealing seem about as exciting as the paper clip industry. Several of the characters are unconvincing in their motivation (like the preppie honor student who becomes a crack whore). I agree with its advocacy of better rehab and treatment programs, but PBS Frontline does a more engaging job of presenting that POV. Stylistically it was stupid: How come Mexico is always yellow and brown, and Cincinnati blue? Very overrated!
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Mediocre and unchallenging film
ametaphysicalshark30 September 2007
Here's a film which looks amazing, but lacks substance. That is quite odd, considering the fact that this is a film which wants to be deep and carefully tries to avoid clichéd Hollywood storytelling. Of course, thanks to "Crash" and Inarritu's films the 'interlocking drama' has now become a cliché, and perhaps looking at this film seven years later after seeing all the films it has influenced lends it a disadvantage. "Traffic" tells three stories, one of a politician in the US who is hired to head the war on drugs and has a drug addicted daughter, one of a trophy wife who attempts to save her jailed husband's drug business, and one of a corrupt Mexican cop who struggles with his conscience after discovering that his boss may not be the ardent anti-drug official he thought he was.

The problem with "Traffic" is that it is played 100% safe. It does not take risks. In the 90's Soderbergh made challenging and articulate films in a wide variety of styles, and they were all far better than this one. When making "Traffic", Soderbergh made a crucial mistake with the casting. Two of the blandest and least interesting actors in Hollywood are featured here, and in prominent and dramatically important roles- Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Their performances here are awful in the sense that they are firmly average and lacking in any flair. Zeta-Jones is incapable of any emotion in any performance I've seen her in. Here she is asked to play a complex and fairly interesting (yet poorly developed) character and she goes through the entire film without one moment of acting which isn't wooden. I have long ago decided that Michael Douglas plays every role the same. He just isn't convincing here, at all. Too bad he didn't inherit any of his father's talent. It was absolutely crucial that this film be well acted, but these two actors are detrimental to its success. It feels phony. At least the dependable Benicio Del Toro (nearly) saves the film with his powerhouse performance.

The main issue I have with "Traffic", however, isn't even the acting, it's the screenplay. An Oscar winning screenplay, nonetheless. I don't think it resolves its various stories well enough and I don't think just about ANY of the dialog was interesting. It's too worried about being politically correct and about addressing the issue at hand to bother being a good screenplay. "Traffic" is Oscar bait. A safe drama which hammers its point home over and over... and over. There's a shot nearly at the end of the film which pretty much summarizes everything that's wrong with this. Don Cheadle's character plants a bug underneath a table in a house, something we see clearly. A few seconds later, we see the bug AGAIN. This film assumes that its audience is less than intelligent.

All that said, "Traffic" is a visually good film. The production design, crucial to telling stories in several vastly different locations, is excellent. The photography is excellent and innovative (use of different lenses adds atmosphere to the film). The camera is always in the right place at the right time, capturing events perfectly without being too distracting. The score compliments the film very well.

This film is well-made but it is empty. It manages, in nearly three hours, to say nothing and offend nobody. It's good technical film-making, but other than that, offers nothing. It wants to be a big statement on drugs and drug policies but it fails miserably. It's not even the best movie made about drugs in its year. Looking into the 90's we find Danny Boyle's masterpiece "Trainspotting". The 80's? Well, there was a terrific British miniseries on "Masterpiece Theatre" called "Traffik" which was the inspiration for this film, but far stronger in a narrative and dramatic sense.

2.5/5
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1/10
Possibly the worst movie ever made.. or one of the worst
GB2K7 January 2002
Let's make a movie with a lot of stars... but let's make the star of the movie 'Long Unnecessary Pauses".. i guess they forgot to credit that. Seriously folks.. the only movie i know that has a lot of non-dialogue that works is 2001. This movie nearly put me to sleep in the theatre. This is not a date flick! This is a movie to help you get to sleep. Oh yeah.. let's add a lot of color-tones to the scenes.. i guess they were leftovers from Pitch Black. Oh and let's add Cheadle as a wise-ass black guy. There's just not enough of those these days. Poor Benicio Del Toro and Michael Douglas getting stuck in this waste of 16mm film. And to think this was nominated. Just goes to show that it's all about paying the Academy and not about a good flick anymore.

And DON'T say this is a good representation of the drug scene. It's about as realistic as Trainspotting. If you wanna see a REALISTIC movie about drugs, then see Requiem for a Dream. You'll learn that drugs NEVER lead to a happy ending like this crap did.
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1/10
borrrrrrring!
durdenesque25 January 2001
Now what have we gained from watching this film? Nothing new. In fact every aspect of this film is just a fabrication from someone or something else. The writing was mediocre at best. The camera work, oooh it is jiggling how edgy. Please! The acting was ok but nothing spectacular but that is a function of the writing. This film tried so hard (too hard) to say something about a lot issues (via the perspectives of different sides involved in the 'drug war') but ended up saying nothing at all, well at least nothing new it was cliche after cliche. I would rather watch Stargate then this abomination again, well maybe not but at least Stargate clocked in under two hours. But hey this is just my opinion.
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1/10
Wait, wait, wait... This won 4 Academy Awards?
beastieboys243 June 2001
Let me start my saying that this movie was terrible. If I could go back in time, I would have rather watched Anaconda in French with Spanish subtitles than watch this movie, and I don't speak French or Spanish.

I attribute all the praise and acclaim this film received to typical Hollywood BS. The acting in this movie, except for Benicio del Toro who was wonderful, was TERRIBLE. The screenplay for this movie was TERRIBLE. Anybody with a crayon and a piece of paper could have written better dialog than the trash that comes out of these character's mouths. The message in this movie, however blatantly ridiculous it was, was TERRIBLE.

On the plus side, the movie did finally come to an end, although it took nearly 3 hours to get there. This reminds me, I just noticed that this film is one of Amazon.com's Top-Selling DVD's. Maybe I am just crazy but that's a lot of people paying way too much for something that amounts to a drink coaster.

Well enough about the good things in the film, I'm going to go watch Requiem For A Dream again just so I can remember what a real movie about drugs is like.
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1/10
Movie has a decent message but unrealistic
mikeburrell213 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have several issues with Traffic. 1) The idea that Catherine Zeta-Jones' character could get away with murder is not believable. There are several things that make this impossible. First, the killer she hired she was talking to her on the phone seconds before the car blew up. Clearly, there will be an investigation on the Federal Agent's death which would reveal that the last person the killer talked to was Catherine Zeta-Jones. 2) When the snitch actually does get killed, his security was a joke. You tell me you are going to let some guy serve him breakfast, who you don't even know who he is. People clearly wanted the snitch dead. Also, why is Don Cheadle's character protecting him? Isn't that the US Marshal's job? The snitch shot at Don Cheadle and Don Cheadle shot the snitch. So clearly they aren't going to make Don Cheadle the snitches protection.

2) At the end of the movie, Don Cheadle puts a bug underneath Catherine Zeta-Jones' table. As the movie had shown earlier, the house was already bugged. So what would that even matter. It was obvious that the bugs didn't help anything because they knew that the house was bugged.

There were things throughout the entire movie that I found far fetched. I could keep going, but I would be here forever. I don't even want to start on Michael Douglas' character and his daughter.

The one line of the movie that I actually liked was when the snitch was talking to Don Cheadle and told him that essentially he works for the drug lords too since all he is doing is helping the Juarez cartel.
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1/10
Best film of the year?...NOT!!!!
clark-712 January 2001
I had been reading all of the good reviews and high ratings for this movie and decided I had to see it. Big mistake!! This movie was honestly one of the worst films I have seen in months. It was boring, unbelievable, and cheesy. I am being totaly honest here. Do not waste your money on this crap! The various coloring in the film when it changed locations was very annoying. It looked as though they were using thirty year old film to shoot with. Micheal Douglas's character was basically a whimp! No wonder his daughter turned out the way she did. Her character was even more hokey and unbelievable. Basically, this movie sucked!
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