It’s easy to characterise Traffic as a by-the-numbers message film, a screed against the “war on drugs” that even colour-codes each of its various storylines to avoid confusion. Each storyline is custom-built to demonstrate the futility of the early-‘90s anti-drug initiatives of the United States, whether it’s someone immediately rising to replace an incarcerated druglord (in this case, his wife) or the USA “drug tsar” becoming disillusioned with his policies after his daughter descends into drug addiction (she pretty much just sleeps with a black guy, but here that counts as “bottoming out”).
The screenplay is intricately interwoven but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – it’s dramatically interesting that the druglord’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) takes the reins, but not particularly believable given she begins the film unaware of how her husband makes his money. Michael Douglas’s “drug tsar” has a similar accelerated arc, going from conservative judge to anti-“war on drugs” within a very short span.
But I’m being overly critical – Traffic is far better than a simple message film, with Soderbergh and a capable cast keeping the audience engaged enough to only notice such flaws in characterisation in retrospect. And the message is still relevant, even over a decade later.
2 thoughts on “Traffic (2000)”
Nice review here. I like this film more than you (it’s one of my Top 10 of All Time), but I’m definitely glad you appreciate it. Traffic changed how I look at movies. I’ll love it forever.
I think Traffic is a good film, just burdened with a pretty average script that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny; this is true of most “message” films in my experience. Soderbergh’s direction is definitely amazing – he manages to make wordless montages feel fresh which is a genuine achievement. Thanks for the comment!