(2000, Steven Soderbergh)
“Your government surrendered this war a long time ago”
Oh boy, the film I’ve always waited for! A movie about road management detailing the arduous life of a town planner whose job is to monitor speed cameras and traffic lights and “experimental calming”, whatever that is.
Except it’s not. The “traffic” of the title refers to drug trafficking, and apparently it’s based on an old Channel 4 series over here in the UK. Although this is an American movie, so a few changes have been made. But, and this is important, is it any good?
First off, Traffic has three stories. The first story has Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) caught up in the hunt for drug barons operating out of Mexico. The second has Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a conservative Ohio judge who becomes the head of the Office For Drug Control in the US, leading the charge in the “war on drugs”, but, wouldn’t you know it, his daughter’s becoming an addict. Finally we have the DEA hunting a major drug smuggler in the US while his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) attempts to get their informant killed so her husband can go free.
This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed a movie with three interconnected stories with a link to Mexico, and it’s sad to see that yet again I have a similar complaint; the three distinctly different stories constantly weaving in and out of each other makes for a confusing watch. It’s difficult to follow plot threads when you have to constantly drop them and pick up another set every time the scene changes. Hell, I barely kept track of what was going on in the Mexican storyline, and there are holes in the DEA storyline for me too.
It also doesn’t help that this goes on for three poorly paced hours. Round about halfway I just found myself getting bored and my interest waning.
Not that they weren’t trying to make this a good film. Each story has at least one actor being absolutely fantastic. Del Toro is consistently cool and entertaining to watch, Douglas does a brilliant job as a man torn between his profession and his family and Don Cheadle as one of the key DEA agents did a brilliant job and had great on-screen chemistry with Luis Guzman as his partner.
Less impressive, however, was Zeta-Jones, who couldn’t seem to consistently pick an accent or an emotion, to the point where I couldn’t tell where she was actually from – California via Cardiff, perhaps?
However, in terms of the writing, there’s little here that hasn’t been seen a million times before. The US has some highly questionable political policies doomed from the start? Why, I’d never have guessed! A teenage girl gets hooked on heroin and decides to become a prostitute, which proves how horrible drugs are. Gosh, I’ve never seen that before! (And certainly wasn’t seen in another, more superior movie from the same year…) Mexico is apparently a filthy land filled with filthy, corrupt people. How delightfully not stereotypical at all! It just feels like the movie has little to say beyond “isn’t drug trafficking terrible?” Yes it is, but if you’re going to make a movie about it, at least do more than repeat the rhetoric employed by the same Drug Council you’re apparently trying to criticise.
It’s clear that I disliked Traffic. I dislike it in much the same way I dislike being stuck in traffic. It goes nowhere for ages, making the journey longer than it needs to be, and you’d much rather be doing anything else but sitting there enduring it. Still, at least the movie had Del Toro being cool as hell. Don’t see that much in real traffic jams.
Starring Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, D.W. Moffett, Jacob Vargas, Miguel Ferrer, Erika Christensen, Steven Bauer, Clifton Collins Jr, Topher Grace & Salma Hayek
Written by Simon Moore (story) and Steven Gaghan
Produced by Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz
Music by Cliff Martinez
Cinematography by Peter Andrews
Edited by Stephen Mirrione
Favourite Scene: Michael Douglas finds out his daughter has become a prostitute. Cue badass door kicking
Scene That Bugged Me: Any time Catherine Zeta-Jones spoke. WHAT ACCENT IS THAT MY GOD?!
Watch it if: There are delays on the M6
Avoid it if: You have somewhere you need to be