ninth symphony films - movie reviews

TRAFFIC (2000)

DIRECTOR  -  steven soderbergh

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  147 minutes

RELEASED  -  27 december 2000

DISTRIBUTOR  -  usa films

OFFICIAL SITE  -  traffic

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $48,000,000
traffic - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from traffic at

buy the dvd from traffic at

a conservative judge is appointed by the president to spearhead america's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is an addict.

kevin costner was reportedly also offered the judge wakefield role.


picture from traffic

picture from traffic

picture from traffic


two out of four possible stars

Unflinching, honest, and completely whacked, this film is certainly an experience, no popcorn needed. From the cinematography to the myriad story lines, this film tries to take the entire cocaine industry and stuff it into a two and a half-hour movie. And most of the time, it succeeds. But there is a sense that Steven Soderbergh could have made a movie specifically about Benicio Del Toro's character. His portion of the four tiered story goes something like this: a crooked, yet devoted cop struggles with his conscience when he learns that his new boss may not be the anti-drug official he made himself out to be. The best story in the film comes from Benicio's performance. And although his scenes are spoken almost entirely in Spanish, I didn't mind a bit that I had to read subtitles.

His performance was so powerful that language was no barrier. Of course, he was not the only person with a role in the film. Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Don Cheadle all have seperate stories in this film. The four vignettes are loosely related and all deal with the subject of the cocaine traffiking moving up through the Mexico-U.S. border. Hence the title of the film. Based on a series from England that was produced in the 1980's, called Traffik, this film tries to take a broad look at the business by grabbing stories from every level of humanity.

Douglas plays the role of the new federal "Drug Czar" who just happens to have a daughter who's a cocaine addict. Catherine plays the wife of a major cocaine trafficker living in San Diego, whose husband is being indicted for his crimes. And Don plays one of the FBI agents involved with the case whose partner is killed in a shootout during a sting operation. There are many stories in this film and the reason they're not hard to distinguish from one another is because there is a severe difference in the looks of each of the stories. And we're not talking subtle differences either.

Each of the shots has a specific filter on the lens of the camera to give the scenes specific color. For example, the time spent with Michael Douglas and his family have a distinct blue filter. It's very blue. And the shots in mexico are shot with an orange color. These differences allow the audience to distinguish the stories from one another. And it's pretty helpful, considering all that is going on in this film. And perhaps it is proper to reiterate the fact that this film tries to bite off more than it can chew. And although I'm usually a snake about lengthy movies, it wasn't the length of this film that caught my eye (I think it's about 20 minutes over 2 hours), it was the content.

I don't feel that Michael Douglas's performance was sufficient in comparison to the other actors'. Don Cheadle's joint performance with Luis Guzman (they play fbi partners) is very strong and when comparing it to Douglas's, I just can't see Michael on the same footing as the rest of the cast. And in truth, this film tries to encompass such a large part of the cocaine business that it seems to wander during some points and go on for some time. Perhaps this is the director's style, but I think it's just that he couldn't decide what to leave on the cutting room floor during the editing process. Just because you shoot something, doesn't mean it has to stay on the sceen in the final cut. I would have been satisfied if some of the stories had taken a back seat to one major story line.

This probably would have made better sense for the story. As a viewer, you don't really get to know the people in these stories and that's a pretty important thing for a movie. One of the key points to making a successful movie is creating and showing characters that the audience can feel sympathetic with. And this movie is so sprawling, that it is sometimes hard to keep those sympathies in view. For the most part, I felt the performances were quite well done, but there were so many that somehow, the English way of doing this subject seemed more appropriate.

In other news, the main defining element of this film, the cinematography, was something that kept me remembering that I was watching a film. And although it was something that was pretty creative, with the filters and all, I don't feel that it worked like cinematography should work. It was too invasive and noticeable and did not allow me to suspend my disbelief. I was always aware that I was watching a film. And this added to the fact that because there were so many characters, I wasn't able to just sit back and watch the film. It was like I was in drug prevention class in high school and I was watching a news reel on the evils of cocaine. Don't do drugs, kids, or you'll end up like these poor sots!

Perhaps the filmmakers were just a little bit to anxious in making this film. Like I said before, I think they bit off more than they could shove into this film. Or, rather, they shoved too much into this film. After all, you can only put so much into a film before it becomes a mini-series. Don't get me wrong though, i still believe that there were some fantastic performances in this film. Sometimes they were hidden behind a complicated and over-burdened story and convoluted cinematography.

Maybe if the director of photography has just stuck to one kind of camera technique and filter color, the film wouldn't have seemed to large. But, as it was, there was much in this film that just made it too heavy. My suggestion? Pay attention to the incredible acting and you'll find a lot of benefits to this film.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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