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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20.19%
Average: 12.21%
Pretty Bad: 10.8%
Total Crap: 6.57%

13 reviews, 135 user ratings

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by Greg Muskewitz

"It's an 8-lane freeway."
4 stars

Traffic is another one of those huge ensemble pieces, similar to State and Main, where the story serves as a dual-level allegory, but that's where the comparison of State and Main ends, and director Steven Soderbergh's take on our drug system takes over. As a sidebar interest to us San Diegans, Traffic is another film we can throw onto the list of recent movies shot here, including Almost Famous and Bring It On.

The main denotation that the title Traffic is going for, is the process of drug trafficking, in which one of the major characters, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a newly-elect official has set out to put a major damper on. But another connotation that could go along with the title, is star traffic, as here an enumeration of some of the other actors include: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luis Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Albert Finney, James Brolin, Amy Irving, and Dennis Quaid.

There are three main stories dissected in Traffic, and fall into one of the three locales: Columbus, Ohio, San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico. If you aren't competent enough to remember this, Soderbergh, who also shot the movie himself (hand-held style, which means it is very disjointed) under the pseudonym Peter Andrews (possibly to place blame somewhere else when the criticism falls in) is in a sort of amateur filmmakers' style of switching the color palette. Columbus is a faded blue, San Diego is a realistic clear, bright image, and Tijuana is a bleached, peroxide monochrome gold. I half like the idea, but for a movie with a 147-minute running time, after awhile it wears on the eyes.

Columbus- Robert Wakefield (Douglas) is the Ohio State Supreme Court Judge, and the president's newly elect "drug czar." He mingles with some good people and gets some good ideas on some strategy to use to put a strong hold on the drug problem. He's very hands on, and travels all over, hitting the US/Mexico border, meets with the Mexican equivalents (sort of), and while he's overwhelmed with the country's affairs to realize his cecity to his daughter Caroline's (Erika Christensen) addiction to cocaine and heroine. She's a straight A student and National Merit scholar, etc., but she and her boyfriend (Topher Grace) are both into "freebasing," which is a certain way of smoking the drugs.

San Diego- DEA agents Ray Castro (Guzman) and Montel Gordon (Cheadle) are on the tail of a trafficker (Ferrer), and the bust of him leads them to the bust of La Jollan Carlos Ayala (Steve Bauer), the husband of Helena (Zeta-Jones), who after his bust, her prominence in the community is no longer of much importance. She turns to friend Arnie Metzger (Quaid) for help and support. Her storyline becomes ambiguous. At first we are to believe that she had no idea what activities her husband was into; that much flowed fine. But then she make a sudden drastic change, and to protect her husband, order the hit on Ferrer, and begin trafficking completely undetectable drugs herself disguised as dolls. The development was bad, because once the story is moving so mellifluously everywhere else, this is by far the weak and gleeting link, that is an inchoate to the rest.

Tijuana- Mexican cops Javier Rodriguez (Del Toro) and Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) make a local drug bus in the desert, but are accosted by the government who were also alerted to the illegal drop. The general likes Rodriguez and has him begin to work for him. Soon after though, Rodriguez realizes that the dubious general isn't really trying to make a difference with the drug problem, but is actually trying to clear the way of the other major competitor, so his guy can dominate the sales. A moral conundrum.

And like "Traffik," the 1980s British TV series that this was extracted and adapted from, Traffic's storylines all segue into one-another, criss-crossing and over-lapping. For the most part, it's done very well and very strategically. All the connection points are interesting and work to strengthen the individual storylines, with the exception of Zeta-Jones'. Hers is the only weak link, because it sees the least amount of development and structure. As much as I liked seeing La Jolla and San Diego on screen, because the other storylines were so far advanced from hers, it was a detraction. The other half of the SD plot, dealing with Cheadle and Del Toro was far more interesting and developed near the start, but while those actors remain in top form, their part of the story drops off.

Soderbergh likes to fancy himself an innovative filmmaker, but I think he's too quick to come with the self-congrats. sex, lies and videotape was an audacious and creative story, and I really enjoyed King of the Hill as well, but even though there was enough entertaining about Out of Sight, Soderbergh's only motivation with it was to prove that he was cool. The same stands for The Limey, which wasn't that entertaining. He does all this experiments and tricks with the camera and editing that make it annoying and amateurish. Then of course he sold out with Erin Brockovich, a critical hit because they all thought that Julia Roberts was doing something substantial (no, just pretending to have boobs, and referencing them in a ratio that rivaled her on-screen time), and the audience loved it because of her. Forget that she was selfish about, but that movie would have done what it did with or without Soderbergh's non-existence behind the camera.

Where the movie works best is script, by Stephan Gaghan, and in its underlying message. Traffic is one of the few movies to actually capture and accurately portray the cluelessness of teens, the whole scariness of not knowing what to do. Adults always expect us to be so certain about what we want to do, and be so sure of ourselves when clearly they are not, and it is frightening. "We don't know," is her reaction, and it's a realistic answer. She turns to drugs for her answers, and although most of us are able to see where he actions are wrong, there are those who are so overwhelmed by those around them (just think of all what she hears from her father, but then the hypocritical response her mother's attitude is to letting her experiment). Her actions go a little extreme, but I'm sure that they are in no way extreme of what people in her position will do to get their high.

That allegory, underlying message, of how we all don't know, is really what carries this heavy-handed and socioeconomic film. It broaches some very pertinent issues, and as a distant commentary, it offers the up-front message of handling what is in front of you first before attacking the world. Attack yourself first.

There is not a lot of room for much individual development, since the film is so cramped with characters at every stitch, but Douglas, Cheadle, Guzman, Ferrer, Del Toro, Christensen (she often resembles Julia Stiles, and I'm not the only critic who thought so), and Vargas are all outstanding. Most of their characters are also very well written. Zeta-Jones is minorly passable, but her character and development are latent and prematurely subsidized, as is Quaid and his character. Everybody is second-string to the next, so it ends up working as a cycle against itself. When it comes to the Academy Awards, the studio, USA Films, will have had to make a distinct campaign for who they want to push, since there was no lead, they were all supporting each other, and ergo will cancel each other out. I think the three strongest were Douglas, Cheadle and Del Toro, Del Toro having won our San Diego Film Critics' Society Award for Best Supporting Actor, but I believe that Douglas and Del Toro are the studio's main priority, along with Soderbergh and the film. But I'm not making any bets; we'll just let time tell, because for now, I don't have the answers.

Final Verdict: B+.

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originally posted: 01/07/01 08:36:23
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell a sharp look at the drug scene told from different points of view 4 stars
6/22/14 Richard Brandt Among Benicio Del Toro's many virtues : He nailed the Mexican accent, which wasn't his own 4 stars
12/28/09 Dane Youssef The best film of 2000. And the best about the ripple effect of drugs ever made. 5 stars
8/26/09 yukers This movie was LAME and way too LONG!!! 1 stars
9/21/08 Samantha Pruitt amazing movie, totally intense! 5 stars
8/21/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
11/26/06 David Pollastrini really confusing if you don't pay attention 5 stars
6/26/06 MP Bartley Some annoying acting and occasional preachy tone hamper this fine thriller. 4 stars
12/12/05 sweetgrrl1972 By the end you don't care about any of the characters especially the poor rich kids. 1 stars
11/03/05 R.W.Welch Innovative cinematography and standout perf by Del Torro. 4 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands A brilliantly shot and edited epic. Also really entertaining. I heart Soderbergh. 5 stars
9/09/05 Indrid Cold A textbook example of how to address a complex subject with intelligence and style. 5 stars
6/01/05 jcjs fine stuff 5 stars
2/25/05 Gray I now jackass crack lovers who love this film 1 stars
1/02/05 Daveman A fantastic thriller, entertaining, affecting and compulsively rewatchable. 5 stars
9/26/04 Bucky Buckner Boone Benicio aside, this is too long, too unbelievable and too much CZJ overacting 3 stars
9/24/04 Naka Absolutely stunning from beginning to end. A true modern classic worthy of highest praise. 5 stars
5/03/04 Gobsmack A devastating, shudder-inducing rush. Worthy of the highest praise. B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T. 5 stars
4/17/04 ALBERT H. TAYLOR JR. I was engrossed in the movie from start to finish. 5 stars
4/15/04 gordon purcell Soderberg uses several filmstocks and looks to the themes, yet it's clear to follow! Smart! 5 stars
4/15/04 rojo Easy to get involved in this one, great acting. 5 stars
4/06/04 Agent Sands Powerful, realistic, & enjoyable with awesome cast, direction, camerawork, music, & script. 5 stars
6/16/03 rory excellent film.... well done 5 stars
3/05/03 Dr. Bitterpants Liked it 1st viewing, bitter taste 2nd. HATE cliche of poisoned room service - how Dragnet! 3 stars
2/05/03 spacecowboy man it painted a bleak picture for the future of the "war on drugs" 5 stars
11/15/02 Chiendog Amateurish tripe with more plot holes than a slice of swiss cheese. 1 stars
7/31/02 I Can't Swim Worth it only for Benicio, who gave the movie what little soul it had. Hey KMG, show me how 4 stars
7/05/02 KMG THIS MOVIE ROCKS HELL! If you disagree go fuck yourself! 5 stars
4/08/02 stoolie-bird just one of the most important films ever made 5 stars
4/04/02 Edfink Lombardo The most overrated film of the '90s...Some good acting aside, this film is a waste 2 stars
3/05/02 Jennifer Birkhead Michael Douglas best player by far; too bad his bride thinks her shit don't stink! 3 stars
3/05/02 Marcia Lartz I didn't even notice Benicio del Toro. Academy is off its rocker! 3 stars
3/02/02 Alan Smithee Only the mexican sub-plot is worth watching. Everything else is crap. 2 stars
2/22/02 Jeff boring as all hell 2 stars
2/20/02 Xaver Depressing. Some prime acting. 3 stars
2/20/02 srm realistic???? white suburban kids always buy drugs at inner city crack houses. yeah right 4 stars
1/22/02 Spyguy2 Del Toro kicked ass as the Mexican cop...very good, but I heard the original is better 4 stars
1/12/02 hd the worst movie i ever saw i didnt understand 1 stars
11/03/01 Andrew Carden A Very Good Movie With Great Sub Plots and Acting. 5 stars
10/04/01 Phoenix Del Toro is a weird looking guy, but he sure is a great actor. Excellent movie. 5 stars
8/19/01 LawHog24 The Mexico part (and DelToro) kicks all ass...the US part is a bad USA Networks flick. 3 stars
8/16/01 Dakamus I paid seven dollars to take a two hour nap in my local theater!?! Suck-ass movie! 1 stars
8/10/01 E-Funk Soderbergh helms this jumpy tale with a mastery foer the craft. Great film. 5 stars
8/02/01 G-Man Perfect. Very thought provoking. 5 stars
7/29/01 Jennifer Gaissert Del Toro was great, but the editing made me dizzy 4 stars
7/28/01 Steve Definitely overhyped/overrated. Not very exciting. Great documentary though. 4 stars
7/28/01 Adam I thought it was a little dull, seems like a mix of very deep and very shallow messages. 4 stars
7/21/01 Phil M. Afficianado The accolates are well deserved. 5 stars
7/20/01 skye over-rated. good flick. been done. 4 stars
7/18/01 svetlana a good message...but damn does it drag on and on 4 stars
7/03/01 TLsmooth Benicio saves this neverending shit-burger 3 stars
7/02/01 Jed overblown, overhyped Miami Vice crime saga. Soderbergh is a hack. 1 stars
6/30/01 Pop will eat itself loved it. although topher grace was fucking annoying. I kept waiting for M.D. to smack him 5 stars
6/22/01 Jim Renwick Over-rated 3 stars
6/20/01 Jake Del Toro only bright spot in this pretentious epic. Soder 1 stars
6/18/01 The Bomb 69 powerful is the best word to describe it 5 stars
6/06/01 Muad'Dib Probably should have taken Best Picture 5 stars
6/05/01 Monday Morning I was mildly disappointed that Catherine didn't take her shirt off. Movie was just average. 3 stars
6/02/01 greensweater Douglas & Zeta are lame. Eric Foreman steals the show. 2 stars
5/25/01 Jason Disappointing, overated coming out Blow beats it by far 3 stars
5/13/01 IM Great, great film....better than the boredom of the 5 hour miniseries 5 stars
4/25/01 Greg No, the comments came from people with pulses 1 stars
4/23/01 Skip Young The 3 comments below are out of touch with reality. 5 stars
4/22/01 Luke Me and my friend chucked fizzo lollies at people the whole time, oh it was very humerous :) 1 stars
4/19/01 Greg Very predictable, just like any other drug movie except no excitement. 1 stars
4/14/01 Bill B Simply the worst. 3 people were asleep in my row alone. 1 stars
4/13/01 Piz Del Toro & company are dizzying and gets flat at times tho 4 stars
4/05/01 Hawkeye Gritty, realistic and anything but a "feel good" movie. Go see it! 5 stars
3/28/01 Matthew Bartley Deserved every one of its awards 5 stars
3/26/01 neil bartlett I sat riveted. A job well done. Del Toro deserves his Oscar 5 stars
3/26/01 zeitgeist oh, the futility 5 stars
3/24/01 Alex Benicio del Toro was amazing 5 stars
3/23/01 JB No great but good. Great cast. Cool arrangement of scenes. 3 stars
3/21/01 bjshrink Disappointing. Hedged its bets, then ended up with a sentimental, Hollywood ending. 3 stars
3/17/01 JB How come all the baddies are Mexican or black? How come there are no corrupt US police? 3 stars
3/12/01 viking A film we should all see 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike This guy made Erin Brokavich? 5 stars
3/04/01 Rael One of the most skillfully acted and directed films of recent years. 5 stars
3/04/01 Gini We're losing the drug war; that's a fucking revelation?! 1 stars
3/04/01 Suzz good but predictable 4 stars
3/02/01 manual_overide Loved it!! I live like 10 seconds from where they filmed the drug scenes in Cincinnati!!! 5 stars
2/22/01 Fredy Not realistic enough. Where were the hollywood producers sniffing coke... hmmm? 2 stars
2/21/01 Rocket Boy Agreed, one of 2000s best 5 stars
2/20/01 W. Sharif One of the best films of 2000 5 stars
2/18/01 Ken VERY long but VERY good as well. Watch it if you want something to think about. 5 stars
2/14/01 Artist Freak Complex, incisive film about a Gordian knot of an ignored problem. 5 stars
2/13/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Aside from the rather gag-inducing offscreen romance of CZJ & MD, not bad at all. 4 stars
2/12/01 bob buttons this movie fucking sucks way too long, too many subplots that no one understands. fuck it. 2 stars
2/12/01 Julie Loved it.......This movie shows the way it really is. 5 stars
2/12/01 john d(THE DUDE) A pile of shit 1 stars
2/10/01 astrotart Drug war movie tells you how it is without the use of dramatic overkill or happy endings. 4 stars
2/09/01 I Campbell Catch it on cable. Too forula and preachy. Del Toro is the only actor worth mentioning. 2 stars
2/08/01 Johnny Figaro Dash of style can't overcome 2-D characters and plot. In a better year would be ignored. 3 stars
2/08/01 ObiWan I've seen stronger epics. Del Toro, Cheadle were good, but OVERRATED 3 stars
2/07/01 Gordon Lawrie Like a 2 1/2 hour episode of "Miami Vice" nothing new here 2 stars
2/06/01 Bobby Too much hype 2 stars
2/05/01 Stuntman it was freaking awesome 5 stars
2/04/01 Owen Croak A 2.5 hr film ought to make some sort of statement in that time. Traffic doesn't. 2 stars
2/03/01 Kert Gartner Fucking awesome! 5 stars
2/02/01 Patrick Tiffany good good good good 5 stars
2/01/01 R Kramer Everyone needs to see this film. Is the drug war insane or what!!! 4 stars
1/30/01 Matthew Bartley Enthralling, terrific, suspenseful, intelligent, absorbing,thrilling what more do you want? 5 stars
1/29/01 rubber VERY mediocre 3 stars
1/26/01 Blubberbot It had some good parts and some bad parts. I'd rather watch a documentary on the subject. 3 stars
1/24/01 ObiWab Worth the price of a ticket to see Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. The screenplay sucked. 4 stars
1/22/01 Unommon Sense Slept through much of it. No excitement, no suspense,little English.Too much subtitling 2 stars
1/22/01 Evan Price beautifully executed drug drama 5 stars
1/20/01 Marguerite absolutley loved it! Needed another 10 minutes! 5 stars
1/18/01 loser owns 5 stars
1/17/01 Jes Very artistic... 5 stars
1/16/01 Jim Kidd One part of me said it sucked but the other part bitchslapped that side and said it rocked! 5 stars
1/15/01 Silo It really sucks when the daughter dies at the end! 5 stars
1/15/01 Jefferson Darcy Stupid people walking out of the theater say "That was so boring". I almost hit them. 4 stars
1/14/01 orpy mostly great movie; depressing though 4 stars
1/13/01 rob Pretty damn good, but could be better 4 stars
1/13/01 bartv Exciting, engrossing, good acting. CZ Jones was a great villain. 5 stars
1/12/01 tnt Interesting and enjoyable...very real 4 stars
1/11/01 Boy In The Designer Bubble I'm so bored with drug flicks. I'm gonna have to get stoned to sit thru another one. 3 stars
1/11/01 DAVE Time and time again you'll think it's over, but it's far from it. 4 stars
1/11/01 Matt69 Great peformances by the coke head daughter and Benico del toro 5 stars
1/10/01 brian doesn't insult the audience... real people....not one dimensional hollywood characters 5 stars
1/10/01 puckfreak Over-hyped, surely not "Fucking Awesome" but worthy of a "Worth A Look" 4 stars
1/10/01 denise this is a bad ass movie! wonderful on many levels. 5 stars
1/10/01 Kiss My Grits damn best film i've seen in a long long time 5 stars
1/09/01 poetcdh Washed out colors are tedious, CZJ character makes big change from naive to player, how? 3 stars
1/08/01 Robert Goddamned good filmmaking. Exposes the realities of the failed war on drugs. 5 stars
1/08/01 Thor-Leo Too long. Neither engaging nor affecting. Too many characters, most of them poorly realized 3 stars
1/07/01 zak this is a true horror film, becasue it's quite possibly the world we live in 5 stars
1/07/01 Meagan A very realistic look at the drug problem without providing easy answers. 5 stars
1/06/01 frankko the best movie of 2000. 5 stars
1/06/01 Foreman One of the best movies I've ever seen. Everyone & everything is amazing, even Topher Grace! 5 stars
1/06/01 Harlan Pepper I loved everything about this movie. Even the music is cool. 5 stars
1/06/01 Schwartzy Great direction! Brilliant cinematography! 5 stars
12/27/00 Emily This movie is about to blow up like crazy! 5 stars
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  05-Jan-2001 (R)


  08-Mar-2001 (M)

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