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Traffic (2000)
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Review Date: December 19, 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Stephen Gaghan
Producers: Laura Bickford, Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick
Actors:
Michael Douglas
Benicio Del Toro
Don Cheadle
Plot:
A judge readying himself to take on the war against drugs in the US. A local Mexican cop busting drug dealers as they attempt to cross the border. A rich white guy with a beautiful wife and kid getting busted for drug trafficking. Several undercover officers nailing and protecting a witness who is forced to testify against the cartel. These are only four of the stories that you will find in this grand picture. Needless to say, pretty much every facet of the illegal drug "business" is covered.
Critique:
One of the most complete, uncommercial and realistic movie presentations of the drug wars ever put together. This movie doesn't have any car chases. It doesn't have a tough guy cop with a toothpick in his mouth and an attitude. It presents us with many different characters involved in the whole spectrum of the drug world, and gives them all a sense of humanity. Good and bad. We see everyone from the street dealers to the drug takers to the politicians to the drug lords, the parents, the cops, the rats and pretty much anyone else you think is involved in the "industry" of illegal narcotics. Of course, solving the problem that is drugs in America is not an easy task, and this film knows that. It doesn't present us with a pretty picture of the greener pastures on the other side or pretend that the problem is easily solvable. In fact, the movie is actually quite pessimistic in its way of dealing with this issue, and that's probably because this continuing epidemic is not exactly an optimistic proposition to begin with. Just "say no to drugs" doesn't seem to have worked as well as we would have liked. But unlike some of the flashier, more commercial cinematic ventures into the world of drugs (think SCARFACE), this picture takes more of a documentary approach.

It successfully juggles several different stories at the same time, all of which interconnect to a certain extent, as most drug dealings do. The direction is especially impeccable in this film, with many yellow and blue filters helping us along the way, and Soderbergh gently easing each story into its own. I personally thought that all of the actors did a great job in the movie, with special nod-outs going out to Benicio Del Toro (who speaks Spanish in about 80% of his scenes), who will hopefully finally get the recognition that he deserves and Luis Guzman, who continues to shine as the one of the best comic relief characters in the movies. I also enjoyed the smaller performances given out by Michael Douglas' daughter in the film, played by Erika Christensen (squint your eyes, and she's Julia Stiles!), and the chief drug official in Tijuana, played by actor Tomas Milian, a very memorable character. Unfortunately, when you have as many stories going on at the same as this film does, there are bound to be a couple which don't penetrate your interest as much as the others, and this movie was no exception. I honestly didn't truly appreciate where Dennis Quaid's character was coming from in this film (or where he was going), but even more of a disappointment was Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, whose development in the film was just plain ridiculous. Without getting into too many specifics, let's just say that I just didn't "buy" into what her character eventually became.

I did however enjoy many of the fun cameos in the film, including Salma Hayek, Benjamin Bratt and many more (which I won't ruin here) and found the abrupt ending to be quite refreshing. Actually, I originally thought that the ending stunk, as I sat there waiting for, at least, another half hour of the film to go on. But the more I thought about it, the more I really liked the way that they concluded the movie. Not for your typical Joe America audience member, but for those who "get" the movie, there simply could be no other way to finish it. I was however bothered by a couple of small plot-holes in the film, like an undercover cop planting a bug in an office in front of several people without anyone noticing and a protected witness who in my humble opinion, simply does not get the proper protection needed. But nothing to take away from the film's generally taut pattern of story-telling. Kudos to Soderbergh and cast for creating a solid movie, which maintains your interest throughout its long two and a half hour runtime, despite it being about a subject that seems to have been covered a million times already. And kudos to Steven Bauer for finally making it back to the "show". Mannie...where you been, buddy!?!
(c) 2017 Berge Garabedian
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