Two Mexican police officers (Benicio del Toro and Jacob Vargas) become embroiled in a corrupt drug investigation. Meanwhile a judge in Ohio (Michael Douglas) is tasked with heading the Office of National Drug Control, whilst his daughter (Erike Christensen) becomes more experimental with her own drug use. Even more meanwhile a DEA investigation (led by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) arrest a dealer (Miguel Ferrer) and keep him in custody to testify in court against a drug lord, whose wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) suddenly finds herself having to deal with her husband’s way of living with the help of her lawyer (Dennis Quaid).
This film was nominated for me to watch by Ryan McNeil from The Matinee. As with my The Wages of Fear review, this wont be all that detailed because I watched it months ago and just didn’t get around to reviewing it until now. Sorry about that. On the plus side, just as with The Wages of Fear, there’s a strong likelihood of me watching this again soon, because it’s also pretty fantastic.
I’m not a fan of illegal drugs. Like, really not a fan. I’ve never taken any, never plan to, and cannot understand those that do. People say that they take away the negative feelings and make you happy for a spell, well I’d rather steep in the misery, thanks all the same. Anyway regardless of my own position on the war on drugs, this is a highly engrossing and very skilfully made film on the subject, depicting numerous aspects of the drug trafficking world that many people are completely unaware of, but which are all connected. To keep these three main story arcs separate in the eyes of the viewer directer Steven Soderbergh has chosen an unusual but highly effective visual technique of applying different coloured filters to the different storylines. The Mexico arc, focusing on Benicio del Toro’s Javier is sun-drenched sepia. Don Cheadle in San Diego is I think filter-less, just crisp and clean, whereas Michael Douglas’ story is very, very blue. The latter especially is jarring to begin with, until you understand why the choice has been made. It also helps to link the story elements together, as the first time we meet Douglas’ daughter Caroline it’s before we’ve seen her and her father interact, yet the blue tint lets us immediately know that these characters are connected in some way.
The cast for Traffic is almost distractingly huge but, almost to a person, is perfect. Alongside those already mentioned there are supporting roles from the likes of Albert Finney, James Brolin, Topher Grace, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Benjamin Bratt and Salma Hayek, but the standout for me has to be Clifton Collins Jr. as a cartel hitman who just about steals every scene he’s in. I always find Dennis Quaid to be very hit or miss, but thankfully he isn’t in Traffic as much as his presence on the DVD cover might suggest, so that’s just fine with me.
Scene-wise there are some very memorable ones in each story. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ drug lord’s wife bringing homemade lemonade to the DEA agents spying on her springs to mind, as does Erika and her friends attempting to drop-and-run an overdosing friend at a hospital. It’s the judge/daughter relationship that I find most interestingly depicted. The obvious route for the plot to go down would be to have Douglas’ Robert Wakefield perpetually in a state on internal conflict between handling the well-being of his drug-addicted daughter whilst maintaining a professional, conservative image at work, but as soon as he finds out about her issues he drops everything and focusses solely on getting his little girl better. I approve of this in both a story-telling and character-decision choice, so well done all round.
There’s so much going on in Traffic that I’m actively looking forward to watching it again some time. I might leave it a few years just to settle a little more in my memory, but rest assured this is something I’ll be going back to again and again.
Choose Film 9/10