Traffic is a film that needed to be made. A film so long overdue it’s almost embarrassingly late. And now that the topic of the war on drugs by our government has been addressed in Traffic, it’s sad to say such an important message has been lost.
Director Steven Soderbergh’s vision is true, but the film’s philosophy is off and loses sight the closer to the end that it gets. The film is an Americanized version of a British TV miniseries, Traffik.
So back to this war on drugs. We all know it’s pretty much a joke and the biggest moneymaking burn in our country’s pocketbook. Our government pisses away millions daily trying to deal with this and we allow them to. Traffic tries to address this, but only skims the surface of an ocean.
The film picks up at this spot. A new man (Michael Douglas) is in Washington to take the spot in the president’s cabinet as the head of the drug war. You can see it in the face of the outgoing man as Douglas walks into his office. Years of agony and despair wear on the man’s face. Douglas sees all the turbulence to come in the eyes of his predecessor.
The film bounces between four stories. Douglas’ character in his new position and as the father of a drug addicted daughter (Erika Christensen), and two sets of cops, one cop (Benicio Del Toro) on the front lines in Tijuana, Mexico, and those in LA facing the backlash of the drugs that come across the border. They interlace with a woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) caught up in her lavish lifestyle, not knowing that it’s all been paid for on the backs of addicts.
The stories from the richy-rich daughter of Douglas to the down and dirty Tijuana copper are all connected by the blow that passes through their fingers into the other’s nose. It’s poignant, but often at the expense of the ones fighting the most. The drug dealers even mock the government’s war. It’s funny if you don’t think about it too much because it just may make you a little angry.
Soderbergh does a neat thing with Traffic. He uses a different film stock, grainy for the Tijuana scenes which tell you where you are without actually telling you where you are. And when you’re in America, it’s funny to see how he films in soft lights and everything seems to be quite heavenly. The contrasts are perfect, but something is still lacking without calling attention to itself. Overall, the saving grace is Erika Christensen and Benicio Del Toro. Christensen’s portrayal of a drug-addicted daughter is astounding. Her baby face and next door looks make you realize this could be your cousin, sister, well, you get the idea. She perfectly shows you what can happen when something that seems small gets completely out of hand. Then there is Del Toro. His work as a Tijuana cop caught between his duty and the overwhelming size of the war he has attempted to wage against an unrelenting force is show stopping. It’s just too bad these breakout performances don’t make up for all that is missing.
Traffic tries to make a huge point but doesn’t allow the viewer to use his own imagination or draw his own conclusions. They opt to play to the lowest common denominator. They point out everything, obvious or not, which makes an already long film even longer. The film feels drawn out and reminds me a lot of the meltdown suffered by Magnolia. It’s Traffic’s four intertwined stories that end up bringing the film down. You wait on the shining moment of bliss, but the ending just becomes an afterthought swinging like a door that never seems to get closed all the way. And even though it’s saying exactly what is happening with the real life drug war and its lack of answers and solutions, this is still just a movie. And to leave us so unfulfilled is a big mistake.
+ charlie craine