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Movie Review

Traffic

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality

Reviewed by: Jason Murphy
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
2 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Don Cheadle in “Traffic”
Featuring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Producer: Edward Zwick, Laura Bickford, Marshall Herskovitz
Distributor: USA Films

“No One Gets Away Clean.”

The tagline for the film “Traffic” very succinctly describes the effects that drugs and America’s war on drugs has on every person in some way involved. And Steven Soderbergh, coming off of “Erin Brockovich” and “The Limey,” has created a truly epic look at the drug war. “Traffic” is very gritty, very realistic, phenominally acted and directed, and more than a little thought-provoking; it’s one of the year’s best films.

Jacob Vargas and Benicio Del Toro in “Traffic” Before I say anything else, I should warn potential viewers: expect a very realistic depiction of drugs and their effects, social as well as personal. The movie doesn’t gloss over the violence that drugs can ignite, nor does it forget the fact that it’s not uncommon for female addicts to prostitute themselves so they can keep a steady supply of drugs. There are several fairly graphic scenes, both of a violent and sexual nature (though little in the way of graphic nudity), and lots of profanity. Those looking for a comfortable, non-challenging, non-offensive 2+ hours of entertainment, stay WELL away.

“Traffic”is split up into 3 different stories. One follows an Ohio State judge (Douglas) appointed to the position of drug czar, and his growing realization that his daughter is a cocaine addict. The second focuses on a San Diego based drug runner, his wife, and two DEA agents who put the couple under surveillance while protecting a key witness in the drug runner’s trial. The third takes place in Tijuana, Mexico, following an honest cop (Del Toro) who finds himself in over his head with warring factions in the drug trade. These three stories interweave, affect each other, and develop as comprehensive a view of the drug war as is possible in 2 and a half hours of film.

Soderbergh definitely deserves an Oscar for his direction here. Acting as his own cinematographer, he has shot the film in a very rough-edged documentary style, which adds greatly to its impact and realistic feel. The editing is excellent, as per usual for Soderbergh. Though it has a rough feel to it, “Traffic” is by no means sloppy filmmaking; it’s very masterful and well-crafted.

Acting is equally good by every member of the huge cast, but the standout here is Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez. His performance is definitely the moral anchor of the film, as a man trying to do the right thing, to win seemingly small moral victories in situations that are incredibly dangerous and challenging.

But what makes “Traffic” stand out is its refusal to be preachy. This is not a cut-and-dried “Drugs Are Bad” movie. Instead, Soderbergh and Co. have crafted the film to be more of a question-poser than anything. “In this war, some of our family members are the enemy… how do you fight against your own family?” asks Douglas’s character. It challenges us to ask what we can and should do to address the problems drugs cause. One of the few things that is made refreshingly clear in the film, though, is the extreme importance of families and support groups like AA in helping and ministering to addicts. Another thing that particularly impressed me was the importance even small victories carried in a war that is so overwhelming and seemingly hopeless.

Though “Traffic” is certainly not for everyone, it’s definitely worth seeing for those who are willing to be challenged and provoked into thinking. Be warned: it is gritty, and often graphic, but it is equally challenging and rewarding.


Viewer Comments
If it were up to me, “Traffic” would get the Oscar for Best Picture. This was an amazing film. Be forewarned, though, it does have its share of language, one scene of sex, a few fairly violent scenes (though tame when compared to other movies), and, of course, a lot of drug use. …this movie should be viewed by Christian and non-Christian alike. It is a movie that makes the point that, though the drug war can never be won, it must always be fought; it is costly, but necessary. My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Tyler Smith, age 19
Despite the graphic drug use among teens, sex and violence, Traffic gives an accurate portrayal of the complexity of the war on drugs and the pervasive evil of drug trade and use. I was disturbed with the assumption that narcotic abuse is a disease, therefore rendering one’s morality, judgment, and personal responsibility inoperative. Basically I don’t think that any 16 year old straight A student can become a coked up prostitute simply due to the power of drugs themselves. There are personal choices at each step of the way. I had the feeling the screenwriting is pro recreational drug use/pro-legalization, in that he never said or implied “drug use is bad.” The message of traffic was more—“the war on drugs is bad and hypocritical.” A good example was when the father (the US drug czar) found out that his daughter was “experimenting” with drugs. His reaction was—oh this is a phase—let’s ground her. He never said explicitly: “drugs are bad/evil/self-destructive—don’t come near them.” (He should have!) ON the positive side, Traffic did show the relation b/w poverty and selling drugs—and how a broken family can lead one to make self destructive choices. Bottom line-drugs are a “God-sized problem”—it’s a sin problem. Duh…!! My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—April, age 27
Finally free on Saturday night, my wife and I had an opportunity to go to the movies and selected “Traffic”. Obviously, Traffic’s R-rating indicates that children under 17 really should not be in attendance. However, those who are faint of heart should not attend either. Traffic has very vivid and graphic images of rape, excessive drug use, violence, nudity, foul language and a brutal police interrogation scene. These images are extremely provacative and emotional. For instance, while Michael Douglas’ character is the US Drug Czar, his addict daughter runs away to drug house and is willingly (and graphically) raped repeatedly by the local pusher in order to obtain her perpetual “high”. Despite instances such as this, I feel that this movie accurately portrays the reality of the war on drugs in that everyone loses: Parents, children, the police, public officials, drug smugglers, drug cartel leaders and especially government policy. Worst of all, society as a whole loses! All throughout the movie I am constantly reminded that we are in the last days. My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—Leroy Magee, age 32
I would just like to add that Traffic is NOT an action movie. Oh darn! Too bad! It’s intelligent! How awful! I think that was maybe the reason that the two teen viewers thought it was boring. It really isn’t a movie for most teen-agers. I don’t think that’s because it is inappropriate, but because it isn’t a “wam-bang, shoot ’em up violence fest”. Most teens would rather see something like, oh I don’t know, Dracula 2000, a movie most that is, form what I’ve heard, lacking in intelligence and quality. Anyway, as I said, Traffic is absolutely fantastic. And to further comment on the scene between Mike Douglas and that kid; Douglas isn’t thrilled that the kid is being “fresh” with him [which is why he game him “the look” at the end of the scene] but he knows the kid has a point. My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Jason Eaken, age 17
The most thought provoking film since “Insider”. This film goes to show you that the war on drugs has no easy solution, and its victims are numerous. Easily in my mind the best film I have seen all year. A movie that all politicians with an agenda should see. I highly recommend this movie!
—Don Lambirth, age 32
I went and saw this movie with my 17 year old brother and we both thought that it was boring. It was somewhat offensive. It was all about drugs and it showed in detail how to take them and what they did to you. The movie was basically about drug dealing in Mexico and the United States, there is some killing in the movie and some partial nudity, I wouldn’t really recommend seeing this movie. It is a waste of money for teens, it is long and boring. Some adults might like it if they are interested in learning about that stuff. My Ratings: [Average / 2½]
—Tiffany, age 15
I just got out of seeing Traffic, and all I can say is WOW. This is a very powerful film. It’s an ensemble film, [kind of like Magnolia] and it is very intruiging. It is no doubt one of the best films of the year. Sorry to all you “Cast Away” fans out there. I’ve seen both, and Traffic is much better. It is very thought provoking. All of the actors did phenomenal jobs, especially Benicio Del Toro, who hardly even talks in ever talks in English. [His character is a Mexican and rather than have him speak in English he spoke in Spanish.] It was a very dramatic thriller with comic relief worked in through Luiz Guzman’s and Don Cheadle’s police characters. As well, Michael Douglas’s and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s characters were great… And they had nothing to do with each other in the movie! There was some language in the film, granted. But the thing that impressed me a lot was that Steven Soderbergh didn’t use ANY nudity. And there were two scenes where he could’ve. In one, he just changed scenes, and in the other [which was brief, and not intended as romantic, but rather, sad, and wrong] he showed no nudity. He has done this in all three of his other big films as well! Most recently, “Erin Brockovich,” as well as “The Limey,” and “Out of Sight.” I think he should be commended for that, and for making another absolutely electrifying film. Every scene with del Toro was great. That’s half way because I really like the actor and half way because IT’S TRUE!!! And one of my favorite scenes is with Michael Douglas and the star of “That 70’s Show,” whose name escapes me. The kid talks about how easy it is to get drugs and how many people can get easily hooked, buying or selling. And Douglas just sits there and his character is like, “Oh no! He’s exactly right!” It is a fantastic film and I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s just brilliant. My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Jason Eaken, age 17
Movie Critics
…The best lesson is the realization that the so-called “war on drugs” must be fought at home first, with parents building good, moral relationships with their children…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…Very violent—shoot-outs and explosions, overdose, torture, characters murdered…
—Moviemom
I personally was uncomfortable in it and I left half way through. I would like to see the rest of this movie, but I felt sad and upset when I saw the teenager and her friends doing drugs, and when the police tortured a man to get information out of him. I found it disturbing, and I didn’t want to go through with it. I’m sure an adult or even other teens my age could watch it though. This however was a fantastic movie. The director did an excellent job. This movie was neutral… it didn’t promote drugs or glorify them, but it didn’t condemn them either. It was a type of docu-drama. It left the viewer to make the decision themselves, after being “informed”. After seeing this movie you will be convinced of the dangers and damages that occur when you take drugs are not worth any type of “high” you can get. My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Supergal, age 15