Reviewed by: Jason Murphy
|Featuring:||Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones|
|Producer:||Edward Zwick, Laura Bickford, Marshall Herskovitz|
“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.
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.