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TRAFFIC

SYNOPSIS:
Mexican policeman Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) with his friend and colleague Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) work the Mexican/US border in the fight against drug running, under the powerful General Salazar (Tomas Milian) – and get caught up in a web of corruption. At the same time, Justice Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is named the US President’s new anti-drug czar, and he instigates contact with the Mexican anti-drug initiative. But even as he burrows into his new job, the judge and his wife Barbara (Amy Irving) discover their teenage daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) burrowing into drugs in a big way. And in San Diego, undercover agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) are working on a case against the infamous Obregon drug cartel run from Mexico. On the way, they get a lead and arrest mid-level dealer Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) whose innocent (and pregnant) wife Helena (Catherine Zeta Jones) is dragged into the turmoil.

"Entirely successful in being an entertainment as well as a vehicle for something important to say, Traffic is terrific, a triumph of writing, intelligent filmmaking, powerful and credible performances and devoid of grandstanding. The fact that it leaves us somewhat depressed about the state of drug taking and its attendant evils should be turned into positive energy and is further proof that the film has an effect. Sidestepping simplistic postures about the cops and about the kids who use drugs, Traffic allows for the audience’s intelligence. With this film Soderbergh confirms his stature as one of the top American directors, fulfilling the promise so evident in sex, lies and videotape – that he could make movies for the masses which mean something. It is also reassuring that the financiers have not insisted on a happy, uplifting ending, which would have completely obliterated the film’s many great cinematic achievements. The script is outstanding in its detailed and confident depiction of a slice of drug trafficking and enforcement life; the direction is unhurried yet as taut as a fishing line with a marlin on it; the performances are uniformly outstanding and the characters engaging; the film is a moving, powerful drama that should be seen. But see it first and foremost for its cinematic virtues, which are considerable."
Andrew L. Urban

"The stories of the innocent, the guilty, the manipulators and the victims all intersect in an enthralling story that explores drug trafficking on both its large and small canvasses. Leaving us breathless, Steven Soderbergh captures the very essence of the big picture, while involving us emotionally in personal stories by superb storytelling and an intelligent artistic approach. We weave in and out of different enviroments – from the harsh vast Mexican desert to the city comforts where drugs pay the rent, corruption, hypocrisy, moral abandon and naïvety all swirl around in an uneasy melee. The distinctive look of the film, with its hand held immediacy and striking coloured lenses accentuating different worlds, powerfully draw us into this complex web, where the answers are never solutions, but only trigger reassessment. Immaculate casting and the decision to use Latin actors, who speak in Spanish reconfirm the authenticity of the experience, while the star power of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones plus a stream of other top talent make this an phenomenal event. Benicio Del Toro is explosive as Javier Rodriguez – this is a performance that dazzles with the best of them. The entire cast is impressive and each character inhabits his space naturally with no contrivance. Zeta-Jones shows great depth and insight as the naïve socially correct wife who makes a quick U-Turn, while Erika Christensen is memorable as the young, easily corruptive daughter. Douglas's role (delivered to perfection) is perhaps the hardest, in that his outwardly detached, ambition focused persona hides a multitude of emotional weaknesses. Serious entertainment, the story never drags; many scenes whose purpose is to inform are short while the personal stories are allowed to evolve naturally. There is a devastating realisation about double standards, and the cost of getting what you want is often very high. An extraordinary feat in filmmaking, Traffic is a powerful tale, an important film that gives a disturbing, yet entertaining insight into one of society's greatest issues and one that affects us all."
Louise Keller

"Erin Brockovich and Traffic in the space of a year...not bad going for director Steven Soderbergh, who tries hard and almost succeeds in pulling off a multi-story, Altman-esque journey into the drug trade. For the most part this is a gripping thriller that lays bare the mechanics of drug trafficking, the seemingly hopeless task of law enforcement and what happens when the stuff hits the street and goes into the arms and up the noses of teenagers from respectable families. Traffic is at its strongest when striking at the heart of the American family - in this case teenage Caroline (Erika Christensen), the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Wakefield (Michael Douglas) who's been appointed by the President as his chief officer in the war on drugs. Scenes in which Douglas is lectured by Caroline's boyfriend Seth (Topher Grace) as he's being escorted into the seediest of drug neighbourhoods to look for his errant daughter carry enormous impact. Here's the nation's anti-drug king being dressed down by a schoolboy who teaches him more in five minutes than he could ever hope to learn from years with committees and consultants. Douglas, who seems to have been reborn as an actor lately, is outstanding as the troubled lawman who, at the end of it all, is still a father. There are strong performances and gripping stories everywhere; Miguel Ferrer as an importer turned state's witness, Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman as dedicated undercover agents, Steven Bauer as a dealer arrested in his palatial San Diego home and Catherine Zeta Jones as his unknowing, socially prominent wife. Benicio Del Toro, playing an honest cop, is arguably the "star" of this ensemble piece but the Mexican threads of the story are the least successful, although it's great to see Thomas Milian - the Burt Reynolds of 70's Italian crime films - getting down and dirty in the dust. The decision to film everything south of the border in grainy sepia tones separates it unnecessarily from the rest of the action and the motivations of Del Toro and several other players are rather too murky at times. The same can be said for a sudden shift in Catherine Zeta Jones' character which is confusing and never properly explained. Traffic paints an extremely bleak picture of an industry in which the crooks have more money, firepower and technology than the police. Without stating it directly the film suggests that this industry is worth so much money to so many people (many of whom are nominally respected and trusted officials) it simply cannot be defeated. There is some optimism offered in the conclusion but the impression is more one of wishful thinking. The pace doesn't slacken even slightly in two and a half hours in a powerful if slightly flawed essay on a problem with corrosive and seemingly unstoppable effects."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

Andrew L. Urban's radical drugs PROPOSAL

Jenny Cooney Carrillo talks to
CATHERINE ZETA-JONES

Read our
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW with audio excerpts

TRAILER

TRAFFIC (MA)
(US)

CAST: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzmán, Tomas Milian, Steve Bauer, Dennis Quaid

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

PRODUCER: Laura Bickford, Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick

SCRIPT: Stephen Gaghan (inspired by Simon Moore’s miniseries Traffik)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)

EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina

MUSIC: Cliff Martinez

RUNNING TIME: 147 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: September 12, 2001

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