Director: Steven Soderbergh | 141 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Erika Christensen, Steven Bauer, Dennis Quaid, Jacob Vargas, Andrew Chavez, Michael O’Neill, Russell G. Jones
When America doesn’t have a real war to meddle in, there are always those two Great Evils to fight: Terrorism and Drugs. In “Traffic” director Steven Soderbergh gives a glimpse into the War on Drugs, from different perspectives. Soderbergh won four Oscars for this, including one for Best Director and one for Best Film. However, that certainly does not mean that “Traffic” was really the best movie of 2000 and Soderbergh really the Best Director. We are dealing here with the opinion of a small elite, who also awarded Soderbergh’s mediocre “Erin Brockovich” (2000) with an Oscar.
Admittedly, Soderbergh has got a good story, four good stories in fact. The leader of the War on Drugs (Michael Douglas) herself has a 16-year-old daughter who becomes addicted. A Mexican detective (Benicio del Toro) is still trying to maintain some of a good conscience within a corrupt system in which he himself cooperates. And then there is Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who discovers her husband is a drug lord and switches to the criminal world to not lose her rich life, while an undercover cop (Don Cheadle) goes all out to keep her from being so easy to get away.
Each story has its own visual style, which basically means that the story of Javier Rodriguez has yellow, orange and white tones, the story of Robert Wakefield and his daughter cool blue colors and the story of Helena Ayala and Montel Gordon plain colors. After all, the stories of Helena Ayala and Montel Gordon largely overlap, there is actually one storyline with different elaborated characters. The transitions from one story to the other are made clearer by the color differences, but the colors are very predominant and this use of color is not consistently continued throughout the film. Soderbergh shot the film himself, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews. His choice to use hand-held cameras is not always logical and sometimes disturbing. Often an image moves slightly, while it should have just been stationary.
Traffic is certainly not a bad film, the dialogues are strong, the stories interesting, the images at times very beautiful and there is good acting. Benicio del Toro’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor is deserved. In addition to the acting, the strongest point of “Traffic” is that the film avoids false sentiment as much as possible. It is indicated that this War is not so easy to win and that it is a daunting and probably endless ride, without shouting out plainly: but we must do it anyway! In Traffic, the War on Drugs comes across as a corrupt cat-and-mouse game that many people fall victim to. A reasonable film with social awareness; sometimes that’s enough to be voted Best Film.