A sobering look at the drug trade that Director Stephen Soderbergh, himself describes as “Nashville meets The French Connection,” TRAFFIC is a masterful film but never truly connected with me on an emotional level.
The performances are generally top-notch with Benecio Del Toro and Don Cheadle as the true stand-out performances. Del Toro was honored with a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his role as a Mexican cop.
Multiple storylines weave throughout each other in this epic tapestry. Michael Douglas, just appointed as the new drug czar, not only realizes that the war on drugs is a herculean effort if not an impossible problem, also discovers that it’s being waged in his own home. His daughter (Erika Christenson) is addicted to some pretty hardcore narcotics and is slipping through his fingers. Another story features Mexican cop, Del Toro’s Javier Rodriguez, who lives by a code of morality which is tested when he and his partner are sucked into the world of General Salazar and his questionable tactics with dealing with the Mexican drug problem. The third major storyline deals with Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman who portray DEA Agents tasked with keeping an informant (Miguel Ferrer) safe as well as keeping an eye on Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the wife of a suspected San Diego drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) in custody after a successful sting operation.
The film plays out at a steady pace and takes its time (2 ½ hours) setting up the stories and how they intersect. It certainly holds your attention and Stephen Gaghan certainly earned his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Filmed by Soderbergh (using the pseudonym Peter Andrews), it has a documentary feel with each storyline given a different color palette as a way of cluing the audience in on which one is the current focus.
TRAFFIC is a good drama and worth a look if you’re in the mood for a complex narrative that has something to say about an issue that affects many of us either peripherally or possibly even personally.