Traffic is a long, restless, shifting thriller with some multi-layered plotting and plenty of pleasing technical flourishes. But, for all the virtuosity, it's basically the story of two men at opposite ends of a futile drug-enforcement drive, both slowly losing their grip on the morality demanded from their positions.

Steven Soderbergh has returned to a key obsession of his first film, sex lies and videotape: the seething humanity lurking beneath respectable surface. For example, Judge Wakefield's (Michael Douglas) earnest proclamations about "the war against drugs" disguises a turbulent, American Beauty-style home-life, where his seemingly pristine daughter (Erika Christensen), desperate for a form of expression, has turned to the oblivion of cocaine. Douglas is superb as the politician finding his public views colliding with his personal life, and he convincingly plays a man whose upstanding hectoring has to gradually wilt in line with his daughter's alienation.

But if he is the general, Benicio Del Toro - the real star of the film - is the frontline grunt, waiting for the next smuggle-wagon to make a hapless break for the border. He`s a man with a long-developed resistance to the impossibility of his job, but who somehow still finds the determination to do it clean.

Around this foundation, Soderbergh works in two more inter-related stories, piling on an impressive ensemble cast with Tarantino-like assurance - it's the sort of film you can imagine a post-Jackie Brown QT making, had he not wasted his time doing cameos in the likes of Little Nicky. A pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones is the domestic goddess whose life is flippedupside-down by the realisation that her hubby's a cocaine importer, undercover cop duo Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman are as perky as ever, the criminally underused Miguel Ferrer pops up as a luckless mid-level dealer and Albert Finney tries out his Southern drawl as a chief-of-staff type.

Soderbergh is dangerously close to developing a reputation as a director who can bridge the gap between mainstream and arthouse. His technique is never cosmetic or intrusive- it always enhances the feel of a scene. So, whenever we're in Mexico, he uses sweltering, desaturated stock, yet in Washington, the colours become muted and washed in blue, while every pacy conversation employs some jump-cut dialogue splicing. And there's also a masterfully edited gunfight. Someone, please, give the man a blockbuster.


A triumphant, intelligent drama, oozing dramatic poise and complexity. Some fantastic performances are picked out by Soderbergh's stylistic verve. And, while it's hardly saying anything new, Traffic is an irresistible look at the drug-world pecking order.

Film Details

  • 15
  • UK Theatrical Release Date: January 26th 2001

User Reviews

    • Hebakandil

      Apr 3rd 2010, 18:01


      Traffic tells the story of three different yet interwoven stories. The first story is Javier Rodriguez's (Benicio Del Toro) and his partner Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vergas) two hard working Mexican police officers. Javier who makes 316 dollars a month is hired by General Salazar a high ranking corrupt Mexican official who secretly supports illegal drug trade in Mexico from behind the curtains, unlike him Javier is not corrupt, on the contrary he has an unselfish dream that centers about turning the park in his neighborhood into a safe place for kids to play baseball a small dream that symbolizes making his country a safer, better place. Another story is the story of Helena Ayala( Catherine Zeta Jones ) wife of Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) a well known figure in San Diego and a rich businessman who to his wife's surprise turns out to be the biggest drug distributer for the Obregon brothers in the united states .Carlos, arrested by DEA , is pressed charges against by a tough prosecutor who has a very strong case against him after arresting Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer) a high stakes dealer who works for Carlos . Ruiz now being the key witness against Carlos is kept in custody until trial. The third and most engaging story is about Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) who is appointed to be the new American drug czar whose mission is to lead an unwinnable war against drugs. At first enthusiastic, Wakefield faces disappointment after another coming to realize that drug war plans fail upon hitting reality grounds as if we are trapped down in an endless pointless loop and that the enemy he calls for severely fighting exists within his own home, suddenly he is no longer a know it all politician, he is just a helpless parent to his daughter's addiction, he then quits and goes home. Along the way Wakefield comes across shocking and terrifying facts about this fast growing trade and the enormous amounts of money put away to it by traders and addicts making it hard for the government to keep up. The film shortens the original television miniseries Traffik excluding some characters and shooting the Mexican story instead of the Pakistani. The film plot beautifully written by Stephen Gaghan links the three stories even though their characters never meet proving that an action can lead to another and that there are unseen connections between our lives, choices and all the things we do. Steven Soderberg (Erin Brockovich), Traffic's director and cinematographer used a distinctive look for each story making it easy to follow and for the audience to keep track of the events and not fall into distraction and confusion, so each story appeared and felt different than the other. In Helena's story diffusion filters were used making me feel how beautiful, shiny and powerful is the life of rich people yet how ugly it is from the inside. Tungsten film was used in Robert Wakefield's story with no filters giving you a sad feeling as you watch the tragedy of his family while in Javier's story director Steven Soderbergh used tobacco filter painting the screen pale sandy yellow made me feel I was in Mexico. Not only was Benicio Del Toro well cast for the role of Javier Rodriguez but he also gave an outstanding academy award winner performance. I also enjoyed the performances of Michael Douglas as judge Robert Wakefield a role turned down by Harrison Ford, I'm sure he regretted later. And Erika Christensen, Wakefield's daughter who becomes a cocaine addict and goes all the way robbing her parents and prostituting herself to get drugs. This two hours and twenty minutes crime drama film (originally three hours and ten minutes before being cut down by Soderbergh) reveals drug trade secrets and draws government attention to dangerous facts around the increasing availability of drugs to almost everyone, and the easy money guaranteed selling and distributing drugs tempting all kids to take drug dealing as a profession instead of going to respectful schools for education. How often do talented acting, outstanding screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and a globally important message all come together in one film?! Without getting bored for even a second, I truly enjoyed Traffic.

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