Sunday, April 24, 2011


 The first thing I noticed about Traffic is that it is now an eleven year old movie. I didn't bother with this when it was released because I'm not overly fond of Michael Douglas. When he and Catherine Zeta-Jones were married, and they constantly appeared in the tabloids, I liked them both even less. So Traffic was a movie I avoided much to my dismay, as after this, my first watch of it, I wish I had ventured into a theatre to see it back in 2000. My god how the years have flown by, we are into a new decade and yet I can vividly re-call Traffic when it was released in theatres across New Zealand as if it was only a matter of months ago, not years.

 Steven Soderbergh in Traffic has produced a very realistic and thought provoking look into drug trafficking. It highlights the trade within the American market for narcotics through varying points of view, from the traffickers, law enforcement, users, and an American judge charged with finding ways to stop the trade. The movie shows these four angles cleverly by concurrently running viginettes that swap between each protagnist. None of the characters actually meet, and Soderbergh has masterfully adopted a differing look for each individual story line within the movie. This was to show a clear distinction to the audience between each storyline. It is a superb technique and works well.

 For instance Benicio del Toro plays a Mexican cop who isn't bent or involved in the drug trade. His scenes have an almost yellowish tinge to them to show the heat and dustiness of Mexico, and to give an air of corruption. del Toro was nominated for an Oscar for his role and again, after watching this movie, I can't believe I haven't taken notice of, or seen, his talent before this year. For me, in a movie with so many big names, his is the stand out performance.

 If you enjoyed Eastern Promises ( about the sex slave trade ), and the quite brilliant 21 Grams, then I'm sure Traffic is for you. It mirrors Eastern Promises in having a valid point to make even though within a fictionalised format, and 21 Grams in the way it uses vignittes to tell four stories within one movie. The movie runs close to three hours but it is so well constructed that the running time is barely noticed. It is a very engaging movie, and one where the viewer is never bored or distracted. I'm pleased that such an important issue as the trade in narcotics has been made into such a creditable movie. It could have been sensationalised and twisted into nothing more than a propaganda excersise, but it has been shown it its true light from all angles, from the pusher to the end user. It is gritty stuff, utterly un-glamorous, and a realisitic reflection on the pain and suffering that narcotics inevitabley bring.

 I'm not overly fond of Michael Douglas but in Traffic I will give him his due. He plays his part very well as a judge given the task at looking into ways of winning the American governments so called 'War on Drugs'. I'm no expert on the subject suffice what I have seen on the news, in documentaries, and in current event magazines like Time, etc. What I gathered Douglas' character was charged with. He starts with heavy expectations on his shoulders, and alot of political baggage to endure with it. One can't help but feel if America's politicans are serious about stamping out the drug trade, or more interested in their own agendas. It isn't a good look at those in power, and the viewer quickly realises the enormous mountain the U.S faces from within that makes them their own worst enemy in winning the war. 

  At the sharp end is the DEA, amongst others, who are entailed with carrying out the enforcement and interdiction of the drugs coming into the country. They face an almost insurmountable job, and again the viewer can only sympathise with them as they battle the greed and pain of the trade. Don Cheadle is superb as one such agent. He is honest and wants to see an end to the trade. But as much effort as he puts in he knows the U.S is losing the war. To be sure he keeps pushing on but it comes home how hopeles their job is without the bite, and real political will and commitment needed  from the powers that be. One character, a small time seller who is witness protection sums it up thus to his protectors, ' Don't you know, the governement knows it can't win and gave up trying long ago'. 

 This character is about to testify against a big U.S pusher who had been seen arrested earlier in the movie. He has a contract put out on him so as he can't testify. The amount of money involved in the trade enables the hit to happen. Again the movie shows the dirty, and grim side to the trade. Greed has the ability to look after itself and the big dealer walks free. Catherine Zeta-Jones is his wife. Intially she confesses to knowing nothing of her husbands 'business' activities. But the longer he is jail,and the harder her finacial situation becomes, she involves herself. She likes the life style her husbands money brings her, and doesn't want to let it go. She goes to Mexico to keep the 'business' going. Again the greed of the trade is shown as is the sheer amount of money involved. This is the movies whole point as to why the U.S is struggling with the trade. Vast amounts of money, and a market that wants to be supplied.

 I particularly liked Traffic. It has a serious message and it tells it in an extremely credible way. It had to, for if it didn't then the whole movie would have been dis-missed, and a chance to show the misery of the drug trade would have been lost. It is easy as a viewer to fall into generalisations, Mexico this, Mexico that, the U.S that, etc, etc, and so on, and so forth. But the movie does attempt to show where the exact problems lie without overall generalisations. I liked how Douglas' daughter becames an addict on the very drugs he is charged with stopping. It is a good touch, and shows how drugs aren't just a scourge on the poor, but of all society whether rich or poor. It shows how the poorer classes are involved in the trade because of the money on offer, and because as far as the big pushers are concerned they are expendable. There are plenty more poor from where they came from.

 And it isn't just the poor in the U.S. del Tor's character risks his life to give the DEA information on a corrupt Mexican military officer in exchange for a baseball pitch so the local children have hope, and can see a future outside of selling drugs. The movie ends with him watching Mexican children playing baseball. It is a poignant ending, and a quietly subliminal one, as it shows sometimes the simplest of solutions will out do problems that millions and millions of dollars won't.

 This is a very good movie. Not only is it credible, but it is extremely well made which only emphasises the message. It is an unblemished look at the drug trade, and the pain and misery it brings. The amount of money involved from an insatiable market are at the core of the problem. The movie shows there is no quick fix or easy solutions, and superbly shows the trade from those high on top on both sides, the U.S politicians and law enforcement agencies on one, and the big pushers on the other. Then it goes to show the misey of the trade as black Americans in ghettoes are shown selling, and the results of addiction that show no remorse or distinction to the lives it ruins.

 Traffic is a very fine movie and I do recommend it to all. It is extremely well made with a lot of care and attention to deal to give it realism and credibility. The cast is excellent, with del Toro being a stand-out. As a movie to watch Soderbergh has used some really good touches, especially in the use of colour to distinguse between each story line. I liked how he switches between each without confusing the viewer . It is a well crafted movie with a powerful message, and well worth three hours of your time to watch. I was highly impressed because such a dis-tasteful and foul trade was clearly depicted without histrionics. In short it is an unblemished look at a trade that may make vast sums of money, but it also brings nothing but heart break and misery to all those on the end of it.

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