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3.6 out of 5 stars
Traffic (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 9, 2011
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.
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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.
Criticsm:
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.
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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.
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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".
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on January 1, 2004
This film can easily be classed as one of the best films in past few years for style, script and stars.
The look of the actual film is clearly defined through the use of different colours of scenes (e.g blue for Micheal Douglas's subplot and yellow for the Mexican scenes). This not only helps the film to set out the different stories but it also marks a diffenece to boring cinematography, which has become standard in Hollywood of late.
The script is not only engaging and interesting but also provides a gritty realsim. The scene with the bratty, drug using teenagers about the problems with society reminded me so much of the conversations the "rich kids" at my university used to have.
Finally the stars. They ALL do a fantastic job but most interesting is the performance by Catherine Zeta Jones. This film helped her gain a credability she so richly deserved. I love the fact that her and Micheal Douglas aren't in any scenes together.
This film is a class act.
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on December 18, 2003
Did you ever wonder why the government is losing the war on drugs? "Traffic" offers one explaintion. "Traffic" has an ensamble cast with Benicio Del Toro, Cathrine Zita Jones, and Michael Douglas as the leads of the three stories that occasionally intersect. Del Toro is a Mexican cop being wooed by a militery general who is also Mexico's top drug lord. Jones plays the wife of an upper class drug dealer who is busted by DEA, and she turns into a vicious crime figure in her own right. Douglas plays a federal judge who heads up a new task force on the war on drugs, while his teenage daughter becomes increasingly more hooked on crack. All the actors do an excellent job, all above and beyond the call of duty. Director and cinematographer Stephen Soderberg has a blast with the lights and hand held camera work. All three stories have their own distictive color, dry brown for Mexico, deep blues for Washington D.C., and regular filters for southern California. All of the great aspects of film making come together to tell an important story of how the drug buissness is conducted, from making it in Mexico to distribing in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. It shows the level of curruption all over the map. This is a great movie.
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on December 17, 2003
Traffic is one of those rare films that actually lives up to the hype. It's a serious message picture that isn't too preachy. Along with Michael Mann's The Insider, it is actually a throwback to the gritty, politically charged movies of the '70s (Soderbergh even acknowledges on the audio commentary that the font used in the opening credits is exactly the same as the one used in All the President's Men). This film works on every level: superb acting from an outstanding cast, stunning cinematography, and an intelligent screenplay.
When Traffic was first released on DVD, there were very few extras included. Fortunately, the folks at the Criterion Collection hooked up with Soderbergh and released the definitive version on a 2-DVD set.
First off, there are 3 audio commentaries that go with the movie. The best one is with Soderbergh and the film's screenwriter, Stephen Gaghan. They both have a dry wit which is highly entertaining and talk at great length about the filmmaking process and also the screenwriting process. It is equally informative and entertaining as are all of Soderbergh's commentaries. The second commentary is with the film's producers and with DEA experts and is worth a listen as they talk about how accurate the film is. The third one is with the film's composer, Cliff Martinez and includes music not in the film.
The second DVD is jam-packed with extras. There are a ton of deleted scenes (with optional audio commentary by Soderbergh and Gaghan) and some fascinating featurettes on the nuts and bolts of filmmaking -- ie. editing, sound effects, etc. Which actually isn't as dry as it sounds. One of the most fascinating extras shows how they achieved the highly stylized look of the Mexico scenes.
This is an excellent DVD set for a great film. Well worth purchasing!
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on November 16, 2003
I think it was the director (Soderberg) who said that he wanted to make a movie that did not reflect his views on the drug issue, but one which presented the facts as they were so that viewers could come up with their own conclusions. In this he succeeded. Traffic is a fairly unbiased look at the drug problem in the Mexico and the U.S. The Mexican half of the film is in Spanish with English subtitles, which in my opinion gives the film a more realistic feel. The documentary type sequences in the film (with real politicians and other officials) also add to the feeling of authenticity.
There are a number of subplots in the film which makes the film slightly difficult to follow if you aren't paying careful attention. Fortunately, all these subplots are somehow related, a masterful stroke as the subplots add to the complexity of the film reflecting the complexity of the problem in the real world.
I appreciated Soderberg not going down the route that many other American movie makers have gone. I'm referring to those directors who love the idea that the Americans are the heroes and the rest of the world is the bad-guys (A variation on the cowboys and Indians theme that many other directors have found difficult to grow out of). In traffic we have the 'bad-guys' on both sides of the border. In fact one of the 'bad-guys' turns out to be the daughter (Erika Christensen) of the man heading the war on drugs (Michael Douglas).
If you are a Michael Douglas fan, you won't be disappointed. If you are a Catherine Zeta Jones fan, you won't be disappointed. In fact if you are a fan of great movies, with great storylines and totally believable people you won't be disappointed with this film. Watch it to see what I'm talking about.
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on October 21, 2003
A lot of movies that are about drugs describe the substance and shows it's effects on the characters who use them. Here, Steven Soderbergh directs a movie that shows the battles, losses, and meager victories between the authorities, the two sided faces, and the people who sell and supply. A great plus about the film is that even though there are three stories to be told, and they do have some significance to each other. Soderbergh makes sure that you don't get overloaded or confused. Each part has enough to give, and every piece that follows comes one at a time. There are no sides taken to any situation, even though there are characters who obviously make seedy and corrupt decisions. You are watching it from a filmmaker who wants to bring you how it is: ugly, slimy, brutal, and quite exausting.
Michael Douglas is more than fine as America's new drug czar. He later finds out that his own daughter, played by Erika Christensen, has succome to drugs herself. This makes an irony and brings a much larger pressure onto their household.
Beninco Del Toro, in an excellent Oscar winning performance, is Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez, who along with his friend and police partner Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas), find their clever ways of police work favoured by a General Salazar, who offers them work, money, and protection for helping him with his so called claim to bring down a major drug cartel.
Meanwhile, San Diego housewife Catherine Zeta Jones is shocked to find her husband arrested, without knowing why, until their lawyer (Dennis Quaid) relenquishes the reasons, which will surprise her indefinitly.
Everyone has a lot on their plate. And although we are sympathizing for Douglas' father and Amy Irving's mother as they try not to let their teen daughter slip further into susbstance abuse, there is an interesting take on the possibilities of what wrongs we are all capable of. Del Toro's character wants to do right, yet his police paycheque is such poverty, and the competing drug runners they apprehend for their druglord boss are large and powerful people. Javier and Manolo are good at what they do, so this new opportunity gives them something they didn't have as Tijuana cops: excitement and more money. Now they are hotshots. However, an underlying guilt of it all haunts Javier like a ghost.
Everyone here has more than a job to do. With such a field of excellent actors, from Miguel Ferrer as a cocky drug runner, Topher Grace as the unfixable punk Seth, or Benjmain Bratt in a terrific cameo as the head of the Obregon Brothers drug empire, they all make the film more interesting to watch, yet what I also liked is how nobody crowds the film and their time in front of the camera, considering the large number of actors and actresses there are.
I really have to say that Don Cheadle and Luiz Guzman as the duo of DEA agents who survey Zeta Jones's every move, are my favourite to watch. They aren't these crisp super hero agents you see in other films. They're simply a pair of the agency's best, remaining very relatable as real people, but very driven when their job takes them to the front of the action. And since they're friends, they also make some good funny moments, joking about this, or bickering about that, without turning the movie far away from any of the movie's purpose.
The violence and substance abuse isn't way over the top, but when the drugs and guns do show up, it isn't pretty either. The story is really well written, and doesn't throw you around. It could have, considering the material's volume. I can't think of a better movie that has a lot to say and a lot to show without confusing you.
A sombering low key soundtrack adds to the film's gritty and surreal mood. And the acting is terrific. There hasn't been a better ensemble of actors than in this film, and with the terrific storyline and directing, I hope they leave this movie alone from any sequal ideas or such. It said what needs to be said, and we'll know how things will go on after the film ends.
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