Traffic (2000)

Traffic (2000)
  • Time: 147 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Cast: Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid


A modern day look at America’s war on drugs told through four separate stories that are connected in one way or another. A conservative judge who’s just been appointed as the US drug czar learns that his teenage honor student daughter is a drug addict. A beautiful trophy wife struggles to save her wealthy husband’s drug business, while two DEA agents protect a witness with inside knowledge of the spouse’s business. In Mexico, a slightly corrupt, yet dedicated cop struggles with his conscience when he learns that his new boss may not be the anti-drug official he made himself out to be.


  • This is something as utterly unusual as a film that actually presents a complex subject as, well, just that. There are no easy answers to the problem of drugs, and this acknowledges that fact. The opening scene begins a trend within this picture that goes on until the end credits start rolling; that of credibly conveying powerful points that cannot be ignored on the issue, as well as covering so many areas of it. This holds next to no manipulation. The plot is interesting, engaging and well-told. Each of story-line is treated with a tint appropriate to its tone. This works impeccably well. All acting performance are spot-on and flawless. The dialog is excellent and marvelously delivered. Everyone is perfectly cast. I don’t know a lot about Christensen, but she is beyond reproach here, and I intend to keep an eye out for her in the future. This is the most compelling I’ve seen Topher Grace be. The pacing is swift without being overwhelming, so the running time passes by fast, without ever losing the audience. As a thriller, this is exciting and intelligent. Editing is razor-sharp, and the cinematography is magnificent, the hand-held camera is used to great effect, and not excessively. Apart from obviously featuring and dealing with narcotics, this contains plentiful strong language, moderate sexuality and disturbing content. This deserves all four Oscars that were awarded. I recommend this to anyone mature enough. 8/10

  • 2000 was a great year for Steven Soderbergh, who made two Oscar-winning films in Erin Brockovich and Traffic, the latter landing him his first Academy Award for Best Director. Traffic missed out on the Best Picture award, which went to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), but managed to pocket four statuettes in total, including a Best Supporting Actor win for Benicio Del Toro.

    Considering that Traffic is an independent film of sorts, it is a remarkable achievement. Soderbergh’s work is deservedly acclaimed, and it remains to be one of the American auteur’s most potent efforts.

    Together with Alejandro Inarritu’s Amores Perros (2000), Traffic also made popular the trend of dramas weaving separate storylines into each other, forming an intricate web where characters, often strangers to each other, interact by chance.

    In Traffic, this interaction is not as pronounced or life-changing as observed in, for instance, Inarritu’s 21 Grams (2003) or Babel (2006), because for Soderbergh, his interest is to depict the far-reaching effects of an issue that has plagued the U.S for decades – drug trafficking, or more specifically, cocaine trafficking.

    The ‘main’ storyline follows a judge Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas), appointed by the U.S government to work towards stopping the devastation that drugs bring upon Americans, especially the young. In an ironic twist of fate, Robert discovers that his daughter is addicted to cocaine, straining their family dynamics.

    The two other storylines include a high-flying wife whose husband is arrested for his involvement in a drug smuggling business, and a Mexican cop (Del Toro) who finds it tough to impose law in his corrupt city.

    From the film’s first moments, it is fairly obvious that Soderbergh intends to achieve a visual look through the use of color that would help viewers identify the different settings. Saturated yellow is used to depict the harsh and hot Mexican desertscape, while a cool blue tint envelopes Robert’s world of cold politics. A natural color tone is used for the rest of the film. As it may be confusing to follow the film because of its rapid change of setting, Soderbergh’s use of color is spot-on, and also adds considerably to the overall aesthetic of the film.

    I would like to give special mention to Douglas, whom I feel gives the best performance here. Sorry Del Toro. But I thought his portrayal of a man torn apart by the escalating war on drugs, both on the ‘battlefield’ and at home lends a strong emotional touch that provides Traffic with a measure of human warmth in a mostly hard-hitting film, most evidently in the scene where Robert finds her drugged daughter in a worn-down hotel in a town populated by blacks.

    While gritty and violent, Traffic also gives us a glimpse of the fragility of the human condition. It works as an anti-drug film, and despite it not being as visceral and explicit as Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), it is still a timely (and painful) reminder of the detrimental effect of drug use. The futility of fighting the war on drugs is laid bare here because of corruption, inadequate laws, and the sheer profitability of the industry.

    Traffic is Soderbergh at his commanding best, a film that is both powerful and unsettling, capturing the essence of the U.S-Mexico drug trade as it is, and without the need to moralize.

    GRADE: A

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