Movie Review: Traffic

Movie Review: Traffic
Posted by FoM on January 28, 2001 at 09:35:27 PT
By Steve Bloom, Special to HighWitness News
Source: High Times Magazine
Traffic's take on the War on Drugs is that it is futile and lost and needs a more treatment-oriented approach. Though director Steven Soderbergh may not want to appear to take sides on this critical issue, he clearly does. When was the last time a movie challenged the Drug War? Well, there really hasn't been one. That makes Traffic unique. Steven Soderbergh's new film squarely takes aim at America's failure to either curb the demand for drugs or stop their entry into the country.
Three subplots merge to form a brilliant whole. At two hours and 27 minutes long, Traffic requires an intellectual commitment. It's worth every minute.The story begins in Mexico, where corruption reigns in Tijuana, home to the fictional Obregon brothers' drug cartel. We meet Javier Rodriquez (Benicio Del Toro), a cop caught in the middle of this mess. Javier walks a tightrope between fellow dirty cops and a general (Tomas Milian) playing both sides. The Mexico scenes are grainy and yellowish, representing the desert heat and gritty tension south of the border.Meanwhile, Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) has just been appointed US drug czar, replacing Gen. Ralph Landry (James Brolin) in a none-too-subtle reference to the soon-departing real-life drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Wakefield doesn't know a coke spoon from a soup spoon. He immediately embarks on an educational campaign to learn what his job is all about. Little does he know that his straight-A high-school daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen) and her boyfriend, Seth Abrahams (Topher Grace), are partying hard. Along with another couple, they blow bongs, do lines and generally have a good time. Caroline can hardly believe that her dad is now the nation's No. 1 drug cop. How ironic, she thinks, as another line goes up her nose.Wakefield seems amazed when confronted with a dearth of new ideas about how to deal with the drug problem. On a plane ride with aides, he opens the floor to discussion, but no one offers even the slightest suggestion. The scene is played for laughs.The third story revolves around San Diego couple Helena and Carlos Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Steven Bauer). What seems to be an idyllic life is shattered when Carlos is busted for drug trafficking. After a first wave of shock, the pregnant Helena takes the business into her own hands. She is threatened by a Mexican drug gangster and in turn puts a price on the head of Eduardo Ruiz (Miquel Ferrer), who is the state's prime witness against her husband. While Eduardo makes some strong anti-Drug War statements, this subplot is the least convincing of the three.Back in Mexico, Javier discovers that the General is not trying to destroy the cartel, but instead to take it over. His partner, Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Nargas), unable to resist the temptation to make some cash on the side, is not smart enough to save his own life. Javier is. Every time you think he's about to take a handout, he turns the other cheek and deftly avoids another calamity. Javier's the soul of Traffic, the movie's moral compass.When Wakefield tours the San Diego/Mexico border, he watches dogs sniff parcels and cars being ripped apart. These scenes are real, not staged. In fact, Douglas was asked to improvise with actual US Customs officials. This merging of script and documentary footage is another reason why Traffic succeeds in such a big way.Back home, Erika has gone from recreational user to abuser, freebasing cocaine and moving in with a dealer who shoots her up with smack. She is obviously way over her head. She goes AWOL in the Cincinnati ghetto, forcing her dad to leave his busy schedule and find his doped-up daughter. At first, he's scared off by the dealer, but finally tracks Erika down at a downtown hotel, where she has been rendezvousing with Seth. The film's denouement is the clincher. Wakefield meets the press, but he's shaky after experiencing Erika's drug problem. Mid-speech, he walks away from the podium, stating: "I can't do this." Does he quit the post? It appears so. And if this is indeed the case, Traffic's take on the War on Drugs is that it is futile and lost, and needs a more treatment-oriented approach. Though Soderbergh may not want to appear to take sides on this critical issue, he clearly does. There's no stopping Traffic, this year's best movie.Source: High Times (US) Author: Steve Bloom, Special to HighWitness NewsPublished: December 19, 2000Address: 235 Park Ave. S., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10003 Copyright: 2001 Trans-High Corporation Contact: letters Website Traffic Official Web Site Articles - Traffic
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