Starring-Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio del Toro
Top 100 Films-#78
Reviewed February 14, 2017
Simply put, I adore this film. I loved Traffic when it was first released in 2000 and I still love it in present times. During an age where the overlapping stories with hefty casts were still in the infancy stage (Crash and Babel, similar films, would not be released for several years), Traffic was groundbreaking, compelling, thought-provoking, and just a damned good drama! With drug use still a continuing problem in the United States, the film remains both relevant and important.
Featuring three main, intersecting stories with a central theme of drug trafficking, each is told from various perspectives: users, political figures, law enforcement, and criminal traffickers. Traffic also wisely shows how the drug problem knows no specific classes- affluent, middle-class, and poor are all represented in the film.
A strong political story is represented- led by conservative Ohio judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), who is appointed “drug czar” as the President’s Office of National Drug Policy leader, he vows to end all drug trafficking and is the moral center of the film. However, his prep school daughter, Caroline, (played exceptionally well by Erika Christensen) and her equally affluent friends are dabbling in cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, so much so that their lives are slowly spiraling out of control.
The Mexico story involves the riveting tale of Mexican police office Javier Rodriguez (played convincingly by Benicio del Toro). He becomes heavily involved in a web of deceit, money, and drugs. His partner, Sanchez, makes a deal with the devil and his fate is thereby sealed. Javier has moral questions to ask himself and only wants to do right by some local, neighborhood boys.
Finally, San Diego is the setting for a story of corruption involving the DEA’s investigation of a drug lord, Carl Ayala. After being arrested, his wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) faces a moral dilemma- either carry on the illegal proceedings or come clean. She, up until this point unaware of her husbands business, faces enormous pressure, both financially and through threat of violence.
My favorite aspect of Traffic is that all of the aforementioned stories are fascinating in their own right- and could make terrific films on their own, but as the film progresses they begin to intersect and keys to the puzzle slowly unlock themselves. I love how many of the central characters (Helena, Javier, and Wakefield) begin as “good” people only to have their moral intentions challenged, and in some cases, threatened. They are each conflicted in some way.
The film poses an interesting, crucial question of what can be done about the United States drug trafficking problem? The answer at the end of the film is a disappointing and perhaps even depressing realization. Drugs will never stop being a problem and Traffic wisely explains how drugs show no barriers when it comes to either wealth or more financially challenged individuals.
How wonderful to see a stellar cast, even in smaller roles (Dennis Quaid and Amy Irving immediately come to mind) with all of the characters having a purpose in a wonderful example of how a mainstream Hollywood film can achieve a true ensemble effort that works. Great job Steven Soderbergh!