Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Running Time: 2:23
Rated R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality.

With its frank depiction of drug use and its gritty down to earth feel, I enjoyed Traffic and expect to see director Steven Soderbergh walk away with an Oscar come Academy Award time.

There were 5 or 6 different story lines, a few of which came together at different points. One involved Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield, an Ohio State Supreme Court Justice turned United States Drug Czar having to deal with not only the national and international drug problem, but with the fact that his 16 year old daughter was a drug addict. Another story line involved Benecio Del Toro as Tijuana police officer Javier Rodriguez caught between the corrupt Mexican police system, and his moral obligation to make Mexico drug free for future generations. Another story line had Catherine Zeta-Jones as Helena, an unsuspecting wife of a suspected drug dealer named Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer), having to cope with her husband being carted off to jail, and having her child threatened unless she pays off her husband's debts. Mixed into that story line were undercover DEA agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) who are trying to protect the chief witness again Carlos, while trying to get information against Helena.

What I really loved about Traffic was the documentary-style feel it had. Every location was shot differently, from the blown out yellow grittyness of Mexico, to the rich upper class color of Cincinnati. Along with the graphic depictions of drug use and the corruption of the Mexican military and police, it all had the feel of a real life drama, and not just a movie. All the acting performances were wonderful. Usually a great director can bring out great performances from his/her cast. It's no surprise that Julia Roberts from the Soderbergh-directed Erin Brockovich is a front runner in the Best Actress Oscar race, and Benecio Del Toro is a front runner in the Supporting Actor race. Standouts from this movie in my view include Zeta-Jones as a woman who is slowly transformed into the complete opposite of what she was by circumstances beyond her control. Don Cheadle, who is one of the best hidden talents in Hollywood, and is just one big role away from breaking through to mainstream. And the girl I thought had the toughest role in the movie, Erika Christensen as Caroline, the 16 year old drug addicted daughter of the new drug Czar. I think her performance deserves more recognition than it's gotten.

The feel of the movie is really what makes this film a cut above others. It doesn't pull any punches in its portrayal of what life is like for some people. We get to see the inner workings of a corrupt Mexican military, abusing its police power to steal the lucrative drug trade for itself. We see how even if a police officer is on the moral straight and narrow, he has to bend to the facts of life to survive on the streets. Back in America we see that even the drug Czar of the United States can have problems in his own life that are bigger than the country. And we see how a woman will go anywhere and do anything to protect her children and her family. Director Soderbergh has taken us inside the lives of these people without glossing it up Hollywood style.

Traffic is a hard hitting film that may be too much for some people. The scenes of drug use are hard to deal with at times. Seeing what a 16 year old girl will do just to get a fix is troubling. The only part of the film I guess I didn't believe(?) was watching the drug Czar comb the streets looking for his daughter, instead of calling out the National Guard or something to track her down. I understand he had his reasons, wanting to keep the whole situation quiet and away from the press, but it still seemed odd that a person in his position would be willing to wander the streets looking for her. The other problem I had was that some of the story lines and people got confusing to me, and made parts of the movie hard to follow. Luckily most of it all came together near the end.

Overall I enjoyed Traffic and I would recommend it to people looking to get out of the Hollywood-style movie scene we're all used to seeing.

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reviewed 01/07/01

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