Featuring a huge cast of characters, the ambitious and breathtaking Traffic is a tapestry of three separate stories woven together by a common theme: the war on drugs. In Ohio, there’s the newly appointed government drug czar (Michael Douglas) who realizes after he’s accepted the job that he may have gotten into a no-win situation. Not only that, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) is herself quietly developing a nasty addiction problem. In San Diego, a drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) is arrested on information provided by an informant (Miguel Ferrer) who…
Featuring a huge cast of characters, the ambitious and breathtaking Traffic is a tapestry of three separate stories woven together by a common theme: the war on drugs. In Ohio, there’s the newly appointed government drug czar (Michael Douglas) who realizes after he’s accepted the job that he may have gotten into a no-win situation. Not only that, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) is herself quietly developing a nasty addiction problem. In San Diego, a drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) is arrested on information provided by an informant (Miguel Ferrer) who was nabbed by two undercover detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán). The kingpin’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), heretofore ignorant of where her husband’s wealth comes from, gets a crash course in the drug business and its nasty side effects. And south of the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) finds himself caught between both his home country and the U.S., as corrupt government officials duke it out with the drug cartel for control of trafficking various drugs back and forth across the border.
Bold in scope, Traffic showcases Steven Soderbergh at the top of his game, directing a peerless ensemble cast in a gritty, multifaceted tale that will captivate you from beginning to end. Utilizing the no-frills techniques of the Dogme 95 school, Soderbergh enhances his hand-held filming with imaginative editing and film-stock manipulation that eerily captures the atmosphere of each location: a washed-out, grainy Mexico; a blue and chilly Ohio; and a sleek, sun-dappled San Diego. But Traffic is more than a film-school exercise. Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (adapting the British TV miniseries Traffik to the U.S.) seamlessly weave the threads of each separate plotline into one solid tale, with the actions of one plot having quiet repercussions on the other two. And if you needed more proof that Soderbergh takes unparalleled care with his actors, practically all the members of this cast turn in their best work ever, the standout being an Oscar-worthy Del Toro as the conflicted moral conscience of the film. While no story is fully resolved in the film, you’ll be haunted by these characters days after you’ve seen the film. By far one of the best movies of 2000. —Mark Englehart
Barnes and Noble
Drug users, dealers, and smugglers mix it up with the law in Steven Soderbergh’s highly acclaimed, multi-award-winning Traffic. Based on a British TV miniseries, the film features an ensemble cast that includes Michael Douglas as the newly appointed federal drug czar whose 16-year-old daughter (Erika Christensen) just happens to be snorting, smoking, and mainlining her way through a potpourri of illegal substances. Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays the wife of a drug lord (Steven Bauer) whose world crumbles around her when he’s arrested. Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro is riveting in his supporting role as a Mexican policeman who is enlisted to help bring down a Tijuana drug cartel. Also outstanding are Don Cheadle, as a DEA agent, and Dennis Quaid, as Bauer’s high-priced lawyer. Traffic moves briskly back and forth between its various stories and locales, both north and south of the Mexican border, with characters and situations that are not so much original as archetypal. There’s just enough philosophizing to be provocative and just enough action to get your pulse racing. Even though the film struggles to achieve a comprehensive overview, the result is never less than entertaining and absorbing. Certainly, Traffic is an impressive feat for Soderbergh, who not only directed the film but did all the gritty, handheld cinematography as well, giving each story line a distinctive palette: icy blue for the sequences involving Douglas and his wayward daughter; a sun-blasted brownish hue for the Mexico scenes. He was amply rewarded for his efforts, winning the Best Director Oscar. Traffic is Hollywood filmmaking with a distinctively personal stamp, a film that flirts easily with a host of clichés without succumbing to them. Gregory Baird
This taut thriller bringing Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, together in director Steven Soderbergh’s look at the unwinnable war on drugs features a subliminal, seductively ambient soundtrack that pulses with a foreboding sense of doom. Composer Cliff Martinez, who worked for a spell with Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, enlists Chili Peppers bassist Flea and jazz keyboard legend Herbie Hancock for two tracks, then fills out the rest with lush symphonic scores courtesy of programmer Jeff Rona. Additionally, tracks…