Traffic(released Dec/2000) sports a high powered cast with a very compelling storyline that has more than a few messages to impart to us about the so called "war" on drugs,in this case,between the U.S. and Mexico.Based on the /89 British mini-series,with another mini-series made in the U.S. in 2004,director Steven Soderbergh first pitched and wooed Fox films for backing.But due to their differences Fox dropped the project and USA films picked it up.There were still minor difference to iron out but in the end Soderbergh got full control over the project and what a job he did.Who could go wrong with a powerhouse cast of the likes of Michael Douglas,Benecio Del Toro,Luis Guzman,Don Cheadle,Catherine Zeta Jones,Dennis Quaid,Salma Hayek,Amy Irving,Albert Finney,James Brolin,Benjamin Bratt and many more.
The plot has three simultaneous stories unfolding, each touching the other ever deeper as the film winds its way to the end.First there are the two Mexican state policemen,Javier Rodriguez(Del Toro) and his partner Manolo Sanchez(Vargas) and the drug war between two drug cartels in and around Tijuana,Mexico;between the Juarez Cartel and the Obregon Brothers Cartel.Enters General Salazar(Tomas Milian)supposedly working for the army and the government but in reality being used by the Juarez cartel to snuff out the Obregons.The General puts the squeeze on Javier and Manolo and they are soon working for him.But eventually they both start filtering info to the U.S. government,with Manolo getting taken out for his efforts by the General.Eventually Salazar himself,with Javiers info,is taken down as his corruption is revealed to the media on both sides of the border.
The second story involves an Ohio judge(Douglas) who is appointed to a presidential taskforce on drug control.As he familiarizes himself with the formidable task before him,the drug war he is fighting is closer to his home than he thinks.Their daughter Caroline(Erika Christensen)needs for nothing,lives in a beautiful home and goes to a private school.However along with several classmates,she is deeply involved with drugs.Her life spins faster and faster out of control with her parents apparently unable,too busy or just in plain denial,to do anything about it.In the end her father tracks her down to a sleazy motel room and finds her naked in a bed,higher than a kite.He takes her home and both she AND her parents attend recovery meetings with her faithfully.The judge gives up his position as the head of the task force to deal with his daughters problems.
The third story involves two DEA agents by the names of Montel Gordon(Cheadle) and Ray Castro(Guizman).The two become involved in the take down of a local businessman Eduardo Ruiz(Miguel Ferrer),who runs a local storage facility but is a front for drug smuggling.The bust goes down but just as the DEA swoops in,local law enforcement,unaware of each others involvement,gets the jump on them.The confusion caused,almost allows Ruiz to escape.Ruiz eventually decides to turn his drug boss over in exchange for immunity.His boss is also a local businessman,Carlos Ayala(Steven Bauer)and when he gets taken down his wife(Jones)is left to fend for herself.On a jail visit he tells her about a painting in their study.She investigates and finds the names of local contacts including a hitman and several out of country accounts he has.When she is threatened by a rep from the Mexican drug cartel for a money debt,the Obregan cartel in fact,she decides to pay a visit to them personally.She smuggles in pre-molded cocaine which is totally undetectable by sniffer dogs or any agents;this one being in the shape of a toy.In exchange for this new way of smuggling drugs she asks for total control of the drug distribution in the U.S.from the cartel,forgiveness of the money her husband owes and to take out Ruiz,the DEA witness.The deal is made and in short order Ruiz is dispatched through simple food poisoning.Because of this the DEA's case is dropped and Ayala is set free.However the DEA still plugs away as agent Gordon crashes Ayala's homecoming party,planting a bug under his study desk.
The subject of drug trafficking is a sordid and complicated mess.The movie amply points out that the drug lords have more of EVERYTHING when it comes to resources than any government agency.The well known corruption of the Mexican government both state and local is also fleshed out.The so called"war" is anything but;more like a rout in reality.Money buys alot and the government not only has to contend with the Mexican drug trade but also their tentacles,which stretch into the very fabric of North American society from those that sell it(from the big shots to the little guys on the street)to the buyers themselves.Soderbergh does a masterful job unfolding all three stories and in a non-complicated manner.This film won four Academy awards and it is not surprising to see why.
Technically speaking this print was made from a new digital transfer,with the Spanish subtitles presented as they were in the original U.S.prints,as per the directors request.It is in its original a/r of 1:85:1 and is clear and crisp.The soundtrack was mastered from the original 24 bit master and includes Dolby 2.1 and 5.1.There are two discs.The first contains,the movie,three commentaries,two music cues not included in the film,and more.The second disc includes:25 deleted scenes with commentary,a look at making the Mexican film sequences,an editing demo,dialogue editing demo,theatrical and TV trailers,30 minutes of additional footage(this film was originally 180 minutes),and more.It is all housed in a two section snap case with a small booklet included.
All in all a highly recommended film.No wonder that the film won four Academy awards with this cast and great storyline.And of course as I always say:A Criterion release is a superior release,so you know you are getting the best.
on April 5, 2004
As you may already know Traffic is a movie about the U.S. drug problem that deals with the issue on all fronts. Traffic is not really an action movie or a drama but it has elements of both. It is more like a fictionalized documentary showing how drugs affect cops, politicians, families, and many others on both side of the border.
Traffic's plot consists of three interwoven tales that all focus on the issue of drugs. Benecio del Toro plays a mexican cop that struggles to fight two immense drug cartels. Catherine Zeta Jones plays a naive, pregnant wife that is thrown off the deep end into drugs when her husband gets arrested for drug trafficking. Michael Douglass plays a newly promoted politician whose job is to lead the fight on the war on drugs. There are many other supporting roles that delicately fill in the gaps between the three basic situations.
Traffic is unique in that there no lead roles in the move. Each story is given equal face time and importance. The notorious color differentiation between the stories is clever, but really nothing more. Overall this movie is very informative and revealing of the actualities of the war on drugs. Much of it is common sense but many subtle contradictions and fallacies are exposed that show why the current policy cannot work (an example is the emphasis of curtailing the dealers and Topher Grace's character explains why dealers are a product of the demand for goods and not vica-versa)
Overall, I found traffic to be an excellent and revealing movie. However, this movie does seem to possess that polarizing effect on people. So, I suggest shoveling out a few bucks to rent it and give it a try.
I have finally seen this film in it's entirety and I like to say that `Traffic' is 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.
Some will say that it takes too long, or that some of the scenes are a bit slow. But does everything go fast paced 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.
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 and this film shot his stock through the roof.
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 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.
Anybody who is starved for a genuine piece of film making should breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy Soderbergh's engaging film.
on May 9, 2004
Traffic opens with a banner on the screen announcing the filmic location to be Mexico, "twenty miles southeast of Tijuana." The film is grainy and has a decidedly yellow (although some have romanticized this color, calling it sepia) tone, and the audience is introduced to two State Police officers, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas), who are speaking Spanish. The dialogue begins with Javier explaining a nightmare to Manolo. Later, Javier and Manolo capture some drug transporters, the audience is introduced to the corrupt General Salazar (Tomas Milian), and the scene shifts to Columbus Ohio, where the graining is removed and the film is saturated with rich blue tones. Two minutes later, San Diego in all its beauty, arrives on screen.
The audience is immediately alerted to the difference between the United States and Mexico. Not only through language, but also through Soderbergh's use of the tobacco filter. But this should not be surprising; establishing differences between the two countries is necessary for Soderbergh to maintain the hierarchical position of the United States over Mexico. And, this hierarchization is, I argue, why Soderbergh is able to critique America, vis-à-vis U.S. drug policy, while still garnering critical and popular praise: implicating Mexico as the agent of America's woes and advancing stereotypical representations of both Mexico and Hispanics, effectively deposits Mexico and its inhabitants into the ancillary position of the U.S./Mexico binary.
Richard Porton's article in Cinéaste discusses the process Soderbergh goes through to create the yellowing of the Mexico scenes in the film. More importantly, in articulates the implications of Soderbergh's yellowing all of Mexico: "[Soderbergh] shot the Mexican sections 'through a tobacco filter' and then overexposed the film to imbue these vignettes with an oversaturated look. Mexico, therefore, becomes a miragelike, evanescent realm where life is cheap and morality is infinitely expendable. As film scholar and Latin American specialist Catherine Benamou observes, the movie 'posits an historical and moral hierarchy between the postmodern United States--which has to retrieve its moral foundations and family values--and premodern Mexico, which has presumably never been able to draw the line between the law and lawlessness'" (42) Significant about the hierarchy advanced by Benamou is that Mexico is implicated on both sides.
First, the film certainly portrays Mexico as a place of lawlessness. This is seen in the opening sequence with the drug transporters: not only are they breaking the law by transporting illegal substances, but General Salazar's intervention highlights (if not immediately, then certainly later in the film) the lawlessness of the federal authorities. Lawlessness is witnessed again twenty-one minutes into the film when two American tourists are pleading for Javier's help in finding their stolen car; here, the corruption of the state authorities is illuminated by Javier's having to give the couple the phone number of a man whom they will pay, who, in turn, will pay the police to make their car appear. And, of course, the hit man Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) being Hispanic and living in Mexico continues to fortify the notion of Mexico as lawless. Moreover, Soderbergh's representations of Mexicans as savages vis-à-vis the torturing of Frankie Flowers by General Salazar's men also accounts for Benamou's description of Mexico as premodern. The only thing that seems strange is General Salazar yelling to his men that "we are not savages," as if the exclamations of a corrupt official enmeshed in drug trafficking could somehow erase the scenes of stereotypic barbarism that Soderbergh captures through his tobacco filter.
Second, by yellowing all the Mexico sequences in the film, Mexico is implicated as the agent which has, as Benamou states, led the "postmodern United States" astray from its "moral foundations and family values," which it must now retrieve. Wood explains that by "beginning with the yellow camera filters, Soderbergh insinuates that nearly all Mexicans are somehow involved in the drug trade" (761). But the yellowing of Mexico implicates both the people and the land; Wood further states that "from the highest echelons of power to the street dealers and sidemen, Soderbergh's portrayal of life across the border establishes Mexico (and by extension, all of Latin America) as the fountain of evil that is the drug trade" (760).
Since, as Porton claims, Soderbergh's film is "primarily obsessed with how drugs have befouled the American family nest" (42), the argument is thus: (1) Benamou states that the U.S. is in a hierarchical position to Mexico but must still retrieve its moral foundations and family values; (2) these foundations and values are being destroyed by drugs (as seen via the Wakefield family); (3) yellowing the Mexico sequences implicates (nearly) all of Mexico and its inhabitants in the drug trade; (4) therefore, the disintegration of family values and morals in America is a result of lawless Mexico.
In this light, Mexico is doubly culpable: one, Mexico's own lawlessness has averted its progression into a postmodern stage of development; two, Mexico's premodernity and lawlessness has thwarted the United States and threatens to derail their progression to the next stage of cultural development, which allows Soderbergh to make his critique of the United States. Traffic can adduce the United States as a country lacking in morals and family values, but only by simultaneous producing a scapegoat that Americans can point to as the entity responsible for their woes. Wood observes that, by portraying Javier as a "noble soldier while nearly all his compatriots fall prey to kidnapping, assassination, torture, and betrayal, Traffic offers a skewed portrait of Mexican society in getting its anti-drug message across to U.S. audiences" (760).
on March 28, 2004
This film is truly a team film, because it does not have any true lead. All actors are supporting each other.
Benicio Del Toro, you are a great actor and your character takes time for his choices and has the biggest depth. In every true sense this role is supporting almost to the extent of being the backbone of the movie; Michael's,character has a few amazing scene and Don's character has this big, big finale of the movie after planting the last bug.
The film takes a moment to take off with storylines complex interwoven, as complex as all of the dealing with not only the drug wars, but wars as such.
Soderbergh gives big moments to actors.
However, I felt that Catherine's character's biggest scene was cut, and should not have been cut, because she was giving birth to her choice. After finishing watching the movie I felt that Chaterine's character made the decision too quickly to turn criminal, the inner conflict was missing. How upset I was when I found the scene as Scene 9 from the Deleted Scenes in the Extra Features of the DVD. It was there, well filmed, brief and strong and probably taken away because the team did not want to victimize anyone into being a criminal.
on February 27, 2004
As I look down this list of reviews I can't help but feel like some people missed out on the point of the movie. Yes it has brilliant cinematography and casting. Yes it is a complex and interesting story. Yes it has drug use and dealing in it. But the that is missing the point. This movie is a critique on the war on drugs.
The message of this movie is this: These drugs are harmful and life destroying, but the war on drugs makes these drugs more harmful while adding a fair amount of disaster itself.
If you walk out of this movie thinking you've just seen a "good drug movie" then I've got to say you've missed out. This movie shaped my view on the war on drugs. This is a display of how you can be adamantly against drugs and even more adamantly against the drug war. Because we may kid ourselves and say that we're "fighting drugs", but as in all wars, we're fighting people. Sometimes loved ones, sometimes friends, sometimes even ourselves. And that is a war in which no one can claim victory.
That is the grim reality.
on February 6, 2004
There is no doubt in my mind that Steven Sodeburgh's "Traffic" is one of the best movies ever made on underworld.
The director is on top of his form as he seamlessly weaves 4 different stories bound together by the deadly thread of narcotics.There is the naive but well intentioned Justice Depaartment officla (Michel Douglas) in USA fighting drugs on 2 levels.One as the official in cahrge of War on Drugs and other is fighting to save his daughter who has fallen in the trap of the deadly habit of drugs.On the other side of the battle is a wealthy couple where the husband is arrested on cahrge of drug traffic and his pregnent housewife whose quest for her husband's freedom descends her in to the dark world of drugs and hitmen.On the other side of the border in Mexico where the narcotic dealers rule there is the voice of consceince a mexican cop(Benecio Del Toro in his stunning Oscar winning turn) honest enought not to be involved in the traffic yet street smart enough not to take the drug dealers head on.
The pace is slow and the director makes a conscious effort to take a matured view on the drug war without sounding too righteous,also none of the stories end when the movies finshes thus leaves the intellegent viewer enought material to think over.
The all star cast includes Michel Douglas,Katherine Zeta Jones and the Oscar winner Benecio Del toro all give memorable perfomramce.Even the fringe cast of Dennis Quaid,Don Chedale pass the bill satisfactorily.
God father this movie is not but if you want to see a serious thought provoking movie then "Traffic"is your choice,it is my choice mainly because of Benecio Del Toro's incredialby charismatic performance.
on February 5, 2004
I had went to theaters to see this movie. Mainly because the previews said it was a knockout, brilliant, and in every critics top 10 list. I was a little skeptical at first, but once it starts it pulls you in. From begining to end, this film lacks nothing. The film interweaves three stories three stories with one basic link --- drugs. There's two undercover cops (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) who bust a dope peddler (Miguel Ferrer) who rats out his supplier (Steven Bauer) --- whose pampered housewife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) learns of her husbands dirty business. Then there is a newly-appointed Drug Czar (Michael Douglas) who is fighting the drug trafficking very well, but is failing with his increasingly drug-addicted daughter (Erika Christensen). On the Mexican drug-side, we have a cop (Academy Award Winner Benecio Del Torro) trying to clean up the streets, but on the other hand trying to help a crooked General (Tomas Milian) that he doesn't know he's helping. This film is really the definitive drug-film. Unlike most, which either deals with addiction (Requiem For A Dream) or the trafficking side (Scarface), this film succeeds in both area's. Academy Award winning director Steven Soderberg knocks this one out of the ball-park. Like most GREAT directors, you can tell when a director is going to be great --- great acting comes from good directing. The cinematography is outstanding. The Mexico scenes have a rich, but gritty feel to them. The Washington scenes are very dim, very dull. The San Deigo scenes are rich in color and have almost a blinding feel to it. All masterfully done. Benecio Del Torro really stole the show, successfully grabbing his first Oscar. I'm sure it won't be the last. He's also up for 'Best Supporting Actor' for his powerful performance as a born-again Christian in the hit film "21 Grams" (also a great film). For a great film, filled with magnificent performances and brilliant camera-work and directing, don't miss out on "Traffic".
on January 24, 2004
A little background first. Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari from 1988 to 1994 was sent in exile to the United States after he lost the election to Ernesto Zedillo in 1995; wherefrom, the FBI discovered an enormous recycling of drug traffic money that belonged to the ex-President. It was subsequently discovered that the one running this trade was the President's brother Raul. All this and more is lurking behind the film "Traffic", a mind-boggling intrigue of drugs, dirty money and politics. It is a very difficult cinematic job to combine these elements along with the social degradation, which results, especially in terms of the teen-ager population that is affected, without resorting to moralist and dogmatic messages. The results of "Traffic" are undeniably high and the film shows Soderbergh's talent in treating political subject matter. However, the reason I did not give this film the full five stars is because I prefer the British original film that sets the events in Pakistan. This film eerily discussed the issues surrounding the drug trade along the Pakistan - Afghanistan border and the difficulty that authorities of all stripes - the Taliban had actually been the most successful even if their methods were very crude - at reducing the cultivation of poppies. That being said, this film along with the book "Reefer Madness"' by Eric Schlosser will help you undertand the gravity of the drug problem as well as the infectiveness and injustice of the methods employed by governments to restrict the tarde and use of narcotics.
on January 8, 2004
This very well-done film intertwines three separate stories depicting the impact of illegal drug business both on the people and the society as a whole. Michael Douglas stars as a newly-appointed US drug czar -- a presidential aide, who nevertheless loses the battle with drugs in its own family. Catherine Zeta-Jones is believably transformed from a pampered housewife of a drug mogul, who suddenly gets into custody pending a court trial, to a woman fighting on her own and for her kids. Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro shines as an uncorrupted Mexican near-border cop who loses any illusions about who's good and who's bad in this whole mess. "Traffic" works both as a thriller and documentary. It's fabulously acted, the screenplay is brisk and enthralling and the stamp of Academy-awarded director Steven Soderbergh makes sure that this is not a common Hollywood fodder. Of course, it would be naive to think that even a film like this will significantly elevate public awareness about the drug plague -- after all, it just barely hints at the huge scope this thriving traffic encompasses -- but at least it's something that makes the perceptive viewers think.