Traffic (2000)

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Starring: Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Erika Christensen, Dennis Quaid, Luis Guzman, Topher Grace (his first film), Jacob Vargas, Miguel Ferrer, Tomas Milian, Clifton Collins Jr., Amy Irving, Steven Bauer, Albert Finney, Viola Davis

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Summary: A series of interconnected stories about America’s war on drugs

Other Nominations: Director*, Supporting Actor (Del Toro)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Film Editing*

Much like Crash was to race, Traffic is a series of interwoven stories all taking on different angles in America’s war on drugs; I’ll talk about how successful Crash is when that film pops up in a few years, but Traffic does a good job of giving a nuanced, mature portrait, even if it sometimes feels over-dramatic. It covers wide swaths of territory and gives no easy answers-I thought it was especially effective seeing the disconnect between actual U.S. Senators (people who are part of setting the policy) giving their genuinely unscripted thoughts about what needs to be done to win the drug war, contrasted with the same kind of thing from people who were on the front line, in charge of border security. It addresses so many of the reasons why it’s so hard for a country as wealthy as the U.S., who throws tons of money at the issue, to effectively combat drug trade (demand never goes away and because cartels have a clear goals and how to achieve them (even if there’s rivalries between them), an established hierarchy within, and no limits on methods vs. two huge bureaucracies (U.S. and Mexico) with lots of different opinions, incentives and limits. The cast of thousands is also good, with Del Toro winning an Academy Award for his fairly subdued performance and for me, Zeta-Jones was the other highlight.

The problems I had with it are two-fold I guess. First is an inherent problem with any film of this kind, that there’s some important issues that it touches upon but doesn’t give as much coverage as might be warranted-one example being how we (or Americans at least view “drugs” versus other forms of self-medication like alcohol and tobacco. The second is that is goes “big”, dipping into excessive melodrama a little too often. Still, this was a film that did a good job executing a difficult premise.

Rating: B

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