Traffic


Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by:Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benecio Del Toro, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Steven Bauer, Erika Christensen, Topher Grace
Released: March 8, 2001
Grade: A+

Not every problem can be solved.  Period.  People think that every question has an answer when that couldn't be further from the truth.  This is my interpretation on life and is the singular reason why Traffic is one of the year's best films.

In Washington, Judge Robert Wakefield (Douglas) has been appointed by the President to lead the country in the war against drugs.  The problem is escalating but like any politician, he believes he has all the answers and appears in total control.  Back in Ohio, his 16-year-old daughter (Christensen) is about to highlight the futility of his pursuit.  She is arrested after dropping an overdose victim at a hospital entrance and attempting to flee.  She's found to be high on a mixture of drugs herself.

Meanwhile, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers Montel Gordon (Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Guzman) have landed a sting and arrested small-time dealer Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer).  They offer him immunity and protection in return for the names of his suppliers.  This leads them to Carlos Ayala (Bauer) who is arrested.  His wife, Helena (Zeta-Jones), was unknowing of her husband's drug activities but will not sit quietly and watch her husband's million dollar empire crumble while he awaits trial in prison.

In Mexico, a war is being raged between two leading drug cartels that are supplying much of the product to the United States.  Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Del Toro) is a straight-shooting police officer who becomes involved when asked by Mexican military leader Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) to help bring down one of the cartels.  His life is now in severe danger and further jeopardised when approached by American agents for sensitive insider information.  He's just not sure who, if anyone, should be trusted.

There are many involved in the drug industry and as evidenced from the above summary, Traffic shows many angles.  Steven Soderbergh deserves all the acclaim he has received (including the Academy Award nomination) for crafting a modern-day masterpiece.  He is supported by a brilliant screenplay from Steven Gaghan who offers a refreshingly pessimistic look at the industry and its effects.  It's an awesome cast.  You find yourself analysing each character - thinking what they want and why.  Keep your eye out for subtle cameos including Albert Finney, Benjamin Bratt, James Brolin and Salma Hayek. 

The film is shot entirely with handheld cameras and with quick editing and little score, the realism of the situation is heightened.  Scenes in Mexico are given a yellow tinge and scenes in Washington and given a bluish tinge.  It's nothing like I've seen before.  The film is rough and edgy - just like its subject material.

Many may find Traffic a frustrating experience given it offers no solutions.  I praise Soderbergh's courage not to succumb to Hollywood commercialism and provide an "everyone's a winner" conclusion.  This does not make the film a fruitless vehicle.  I now appreciate the dangers of the industry, the uselessness of politicians, the weaknesses in the justice system and the overall power of money.  Most of all I understand that the problem is not about limiting supply, it's about limiting demand.  The old catchphrase is ringing true - if we can't solve our own problems, how can we expect to solve those of others?