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Action & Adventure and Drama movie directed by Steven Soderbergh

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A Movie As Important As It Is Excellent

  • Sep 29, 2007
  • by
While people are currently complaining that we are fighting a foreign war that we have no way of winning, there is in fact a homeland war that is looking just as grim that gets far less media attention. That war is the war on drugs, a war that is examined in all different angles in Steven Soderbergh's exceptionally brilliant "Traffic." "Traffic" covers drugs from beginning to end. While "Crash" and "Babel" may have ultimately brought the craft of hyperlink storytelling to popularity, it was "Traffic" that originally perfected the art of telling a single narrative through different perspectives. We get to see the drugs shipped from Mexico to America, we get to see the drug dealers explain their side of the story, we get to see the congressmen who are attempting to fight drugs, and we finally get to see teenagers who use the drugs themselves.

It's mind boggling to see how much of an impact drugs really have on our culture and on the lives of our fellow man. Soderbergh filmed "Traffic" on a digital camera of things, which gives the movie the look of a home video. The color tones also differ from character to character, demonstrating the mood they're currently in. For example, a cop in Mexico is surrounded in a glow of orange, giving the viewer a feeling of what viewing Mexico for the first time is like. Then we look through the eyes of a teenage girl who is taking drugs, and the world looks hazy and blue, except for light which seems to be brighter then it should be. It's a great stylistic choice, one that benefits the film and makes it look as fresh and inventive today as it did seven years ago. But my goodness, I must be out of my mind.

I haven't even discussed the storyline with you yet, and here I am jumping into the art of the film making. I think this is the first (as my brother calls them) "talking drama" film I actually did this on. And now that I've dipped in with a small analyst of the film making, I want to point out that the acting is excellent. Michael Douglas as Congressman Robert Wakefield particularly stands out as the congressman who goes to congress meetings pitching his plans to enforce the war on drugs, only to run into a conflict when he discovers his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is a drug addict herself. Benicio del Toro may have walked away with the Oscar for his portrayal of the conflicted Mexican cop Javier Rodriguez, but in my eyes Michael Douglas steals this movie right out from all the other actors.

Though I must admit, Don Cheadle comes dangerously close as Montel Gordon, a man who has captured a key witness who's testimony could send a major drug lord to jail for life. His witness singles out the husband of Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is shocked to discover this secret life her husband has been living (which has supplied the income she never really questioned before), but feels compelled to get involved in the business after her son is threatened by another drug lord. All of these stories could be their own movie, yet "Traffic" roles them all into one very effectively. These storylines contribute to each other so beautifully, that it's like watching a well-made documentary (which, ironically, is also what the film looks like thanks to Soderbergh's digital camera technique).

"Traffic" caused considerable amount of controversy when it was nominated for five Academy Awards. Of the five "Traffic" took home four, including Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (I guess I should also mention it won for Best Editing, seeing as how sub-par editing could have easily killed this film). The only Oscar it did not win was Best Picture, which went to Ridley Scott's "Gladiator." Yes, I know people tend to accuse the Academy Awards for taking themselves too seriously, but at least this year the Academy members shut their brains off and gave the Best Picture award to one of those brainless action movies average movie goers constantly (and ignorantly) claim are better then Oscar winning films like "Casablanca" and "Titanic."

Even if you LIKED "Gladiator" there's no denying that "Gladiators" film quality is certainly not on the same level as "Traffics" is, and it's certainly not as memorable. Yeah, I know the two films are different, and thus should be exempt from comparison, but seeing as how both films are actually two and a half hours long, I find it interesting when people compliment "Traffic" for feeling "half as long" as it's advertised, where with "Gladiator" I've never heard people comment on the film feeling short then it really is. People who do watch "Traffic" compliment the unique style of filming in the movie, but with "Gladiator" they only seem interested that the movie looked cool. "Traffic" is a classic film that is just as relevant today as it was seven years ago. It's still daring today, it's still important today, and it's still just as fascinating today. Dare I say it, "Traffic" losing Best Picture was the biggest snub since the snubbing of "Raging Bull."

Rating: **** and a half stars

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More Traffic reviews
review by . August 31, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
This movie is intense, complex and firmly grounded in reality. The topic is the drug traffic between the United States and Mexico and it follows three interconnected yet somewhat distinct plotlines.    One is set in suburban, affluent Ohio. Michael Douglas plays a judge who has just been nominated by the President of the United States to be the drug czar. Unknown to him, his sixteen-year-old daughter is a heavy user, regularly attending drug parties with her equally affluent friends. Although …
review by . July 25, 2006
I have finally seen this film in it's entirety and I like to say that `Traffic' is a richly entertaining epic that recalls the great works of the 1970s, when directors like Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola engaged mass audiences with works of genuine substance. Soderbergh works on a larger canvass than he's ever done before, bouncing several characters and plot-lines against and off each other, so that images and themes rhyme and echo. Although the subject matter is drug trafficking, this …
review by . March 19, 2001
Pros: Superb acting. Great script, and filming.     Cons: Some Characters (Amy Irving) needed more depth.      The Bottom Line: A daring film that is is well worth the effort. Makes you think and reflect...      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. Although there are about 150 reviews of this movie at last count, allow me to add mine as to the growing number       There is a lot that …
review by . January 21, 2001
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Great cast, script, doesn't hold back     Cons: Very disturbing, can be confusing     The Bottom Line: An excellent film, but don't see it unless you're truly prepared for the subject matter.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot. The best thing I can say about "Traffic" is that it was unique. It takes a very documentary-like approach to a fictional story about the drug war. Or, more specifically, …
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Kevin T. Rodriguez ()
Ranked #57
Kevin T. Rodriguez is an aspiring film journalist. He's more comfortable typing a review then doing an on-camera appearance, but he loves doing the occasional rant. Whether it be on movies, eBay, or comics, … more
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About this movie


Featuring a huge cast of characters, the ambitious and breathtakingTrafficis a tapestry of three separate stories woven together by a common theme: the war on drugs. In Ohio, there's the newly appointed government drug czar (Michael Douglas) who realizes after he's accepted the job that he may have gotten into a no-win situation. Not only that, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) is herself quietly developing a nasty addiction problem. In San Diego, a drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) is arrested on information provided by an informant (Miguel Ferrer) who was nabbed by two undercover detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán). The kingpin's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), heretofore ignorant of where her husband's wealth comes from, gets a crash course in the drug business and its nasty side effects. And south of the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) finds himself caught between both his home country and the U.S., as corrupt government officials duke it out with the drug cartel for control of trafficking various drugs back and forth across the border.

Bold in scope, Traffic showcases Steven Soderbergh at the top of his game, directing a peerless ensemble cast in a gritty, multifaceted tale that will captivate you from beginning to end. Utilizing the no-frills techniques of the Dogme 95 school, Soderbergh enhances his hand-held filming with imaginative editing and film-stock manipulation that eerily captures the atmosphere of each location: a washed-out, grainy Mexico;...

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Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Action, Drama, Adventure
Screen Writer: Simon Moore, Stephen Gaghan
DVD Release Date: June 25, 2002
Runtime: 147 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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