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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20.19%
Just Average: 12.21%
Pretty Crappy: 10.8%
Sucks: 6.57%

13 reviews, 135 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"Stuck in 'Traffic'"
2 stars

Another of those highly lauded films where the attempt at art is mistaken as the achievement of it.

Steven Soderbergh's Traffic boasts adroit editing, muscular narrative drive, inventive cinematography, and a brilliant performance from Benicio Del Toro. On the flip side, though, it's unaccountably soft at the core, offering up predictable, well-worn, mundane solutions to the complex and increasingly frustrating problems plaguing our nation today. Touted as a raw and uncompromising epic mediation on the United States' all-thumbs approach to its war on drugs, one would expect to find plenty of dramatic power, searing intensity, and scathing sociological resonance and insight to account for all of the critical raves having been so generously bestowed upon it. Yet, aside from a few affecting moments here and there, Traffic winds up delivering very little. It's a film constantly at cross-purposes with itself: the rawness of the subject matter is consistently undermined, and eventually dissipated, by contrivance and too-pat resolutions. Like Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, Traffic boasts more scope than depth, employing a controversial topic to give it an air of importance yet failing to dig as deep as needed to unearth the kind of organic revelations it promises.

To give credit where it's due, I would be violating a cardinal rule of film criticism not to boast of Soderbergh's phenomenal filmmaking technique as it is so majestically displayed here. Taking an admittedly guerilla-style filmmaking approach, Soderbergh, forgoing anything indicative of conventional shooting methods, shot Traffic with a single held-hand camera strapped to his shoulder. Hence, the film has a jagged you-are-there vitality to it that's extremely expressive and persuasive without ever crossing the line into self-adored artiness. In terms of the direction, there's absolutely no fussed-over artifice distancing us from the characters on the screen, and, for the first hour or so, everything we're witnessing seems to be occurring "at the moment"; our involvement in the film is a testament to Soderbergh's evocative film sense where we're asked to play the role of thinking participants rather than popcorn-munching bystanders. Furthermore, functioning as his own cinematographer, Soderbergh has seen fit to give the film's three different stories, which take place in three totally different locales, their own distinctive visual texture -- an identifying hue, so we can identify the locale instantly upon transition without having to rely on a certain architectural landmark or character to appear for us to get our bearings. (Mexico is drenched in tobacco-looking sepia; Cincinnati, blue and green; and San Diego, crystalline sunshine.)

We now move onto the writing and the individual story segments, and this is where most of the praise stops and the panning begins. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan has structured everything so the three interlocking stories are constantly overlapping one another; a climax to one section usually indicates a segue into another. In my book, if the writing is solid and can stand alone, there's no need to consistently distract the audience by pulling our attention from one story to another right when we're settling into the particulars of one. What's the point? More so, where's the enjoyment in this? After a while, after you've become comfortable and responsive to Soderbergh's camerawork, our attention is able to focus more on the rudiments of the various plots. Plot holes and trumped-up contrivances begin to show through, which grow steadily worse as the film progresses.

The most shameless episode is the one centering on Supreme Court Judge Michael Douglas, an Ohio conservative appointed by the president himself as the U.S. drug czar. After beginning to realize that his appointment is more of a joke than an honorable mission, Douglas discovers that his seventeen-year-old, overachieving prep school daughter has not only become addicted to cocaine, but has upgraded to freebasing the stuff as well. Complications of the melodramatic variety invariably ensue:

-- Douglas discovering his daughter's drug addiction soon after his appointment to fight drugs is simply tacky, no matter the preparation behind it.

-- Douglas' scotch-swigging is too blatantly earmarked to correlate with that of his daughter's freebasing.

-- Douglas' locating his daughter (after she escapes from a drug clinic) in the slums of Cincinnati is unconvincing and borrowed from Paul Schrader's atrocious 1978 Hardcore, as is the resolution hinting at her eventual recovery.

-- The daughter winding up in her dealer's bed gives off a very offensive impression in that the filmmakers seem to be implying that she's hit bottom not just because of her having sex with a drug dealer, but a black drug dealer, at that. (The pointless Requiem for a Dream employed the same tactic.)

-- With a limited and virtually unplayable role, poor Michael Douglas' attempt to give a natural performance calls attention to his efforts at doing just that.

-- A righteous speech given by the daughter's boyfriend to Douglas about those in the upper social and economic classes closing their eyes to the plights of the impoverished inner-city ones is howlingly inane being that it's coming from a guy who got his girlfriend hooked on freebasing to have his sexual way with her.

The worst of the three is the San Diego segment, which involves rich-bitch socialite Catherine Zeta-Jones being hounded by a couple of DEA agents, Don Cheadle and Luis Guizman, after her husband Steven Bauer is busted for drug trafficking. Not only does Zeta-Jones seek to reclaim hubby's drug empire to pay off some million-dollar debts to unsavory types, but Cheadle and Guizman must protect their witness essential to the case: a middleman, Miguel Ferrer, who's set to testify with immunity against Bauer. Following objections:

-- Zeta-Jones being oblivious as to how Bauer had been making their fortune strains credibility to the nth degree.

-- The DEA protecting Ferrer is stale stuff and comes off as third-rate NYPD Blue.

-- The fact that the agents would leave the car they're transporting their witness in unprotected and subsequently fail to follow protocol by allowing that witness to walk(!) to the hotel in broad daylight holds nary an iota of plausibility.

-- The additive of a certain substance to a particular person's room service meal has been telegraphed so we can foresee the end result before the characters do.

-- The endless wisecracks and colorful cute talk between the two agents sounds more like written dialogue than natural conversation, calling our attention to the film as such.

-- The last-minute retaliation on Dennis Quaid's sleazy attorney comes out of nowhere and affects us none whatsoever.

-- Lastly, Zeta-Jones gives a terminally vapid, uninteresting performance. She demonstrated a sexy, intuitive grace in the little-seen surfer pic Blue Juice (with Ewan McGregor), but after reaching stardom in The Mask of Zorro her work has lacked personality and variety.

The best episode (though the least satisfying -- crucial details seem to have been left on the cutting room floor) involves Benicio Del Toro as a Mexican cop trying hard to stay clean amid the overwhelming corruption in his homeland. Bribed, manipulated, lied to, Del Toro presents us with a man whose worst enemy is himself: his self-awareness of right and wrong refuses to allow him to wallow knee-deep in corruption, even when that particular route might hold a longer life expectancy for himself.

While far from well-written, this episode gets most of its verve from Del Toro's knockout performance. With a bare minimum of dialogue, he's able to convey a lifetime of regret, and an inkling of hope within his beautifully expressive eyes; he's so incredibly vivid and complex and touching that he makes all of the other characters in Traffic's one-hundred-and-forty-five-minute running time seem like mere puppets.

What ultimately does Traffic in is its refusal to tell us things we don't already know. It comes off as a film designed for people who haven't watched the news or picked up a paper in the last ten to fifteen years, so certain tidbits like Douglas' tour of a border crossing station comes off as moot, because it doesn't appear to serve any purpose but to provide the audience with discouraging figures of the high percentage rate of drug smugglers that are getting through. Add to this TV-quality dramatics, where conflicts are wrapped up and disposed of as easy as last night's leftovers, and you have a handsomely mounted but hopelessly empty epic that huffs and puffs but is unable to breathe the necessary fire its important subject cries out for.

Skip it.

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originally posted: 06/14/14 12:28:24
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell a sharp look at the drug scene told from different points of view 4 stars
6/21/14 Richard Brandt Among Benicio Del Toro's many virtues : He nailed the Mexican accent, which wasn't his own 4 stars
12/28/09 Dane Youssef The best film of 2000. And the best about the ripple effect of drugs ever made. 5 stars
8/25/09 yukers This movie was LAME and way too LONG!!! 1 stars
9/21/08 Samantha Pruitt amazing movie, totally intense! 5 stars
8/20/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
11/25/06 David Pollastrini really confusing if you don't pay attention 5 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Some annoying acting and occasional preachy tone hamper this fine thriller. 4 stars
12/11/05 sweetgrrl1972 By the end you don't care about any of the characters especially the poor rich kids. 1 stars
11/02/05 R.W.Welch Innovative cinematography and standout perf by Del Torro. 4 stars
10/09/05 Agent Sands A brilliantly shot and edited epic. Also really entertaining. I heart Soderbergh. 5 stars
9/08/05 Indrid Cold A textbook example of how to address a complex subject with intelligence and style. 5 stars
6/01/05 jcjs fine stuff 5 stars
2/25/05 Gray I now jackass crack lovers who love this film 1 stars
1/01/05 Daveman A fantastic thriller, entertaining, affecting and compulsively rewatchable. 5 stars
9/25/04 Bucky Buckner Boone Benicio aside, this is too long, too unbelievable and too much CZJ overacting 3 stars
9/23/04 Naka Absolutely stunning from beginning to end. A true modern classic worthy of highest praise. 5 stars
5/02/04 Gobsmack A devastating, shudder-inducing rush. Worthy of the highest praise. B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T. 5 stars
4/17/04 ALBERT H. TAYLOR JR. I was engrossed in the movie from start to finish. 5 stars
4/15/04 gordon purcell Soderberg uses several filmstocks and looks to the themes, yet it's clear to follow! Smart! 5 stars
4/14/04 rojo Easy to get involved in this one, great acting. 5 stars
4/05/04 Agent Sands Powerful, realistic, & enjoyable with awesome cast, direction, camerawork, music, & script. 5 stars
6/15/03 rory excellent film.... well done 5 stars
3/04/03 Dr. Bitterpants Liked it 1st viewing, bitter taste 2nd. HATE cliche of poisoned room service - how Dragnet! 3 stars
2/05/03 spacecowboy man it painted a bleak picture for the future of the "war on drugs" 5 stars
11/14/02 Chiendog Amateurish tripe with more plot holes than a slice of swiss cheese. 1 stars
7/31/02 I Can't Swim Worth it only for Benicio, who gave the movie what little soul it had. Hey KMG, show me how 4 stars
7/04/02 KMG THIS MOVIE ROCKS HELL! If you disagree go fuck yourself! 5 stars
4/07/02 stoolie-bird just one of the most important films ever made 5 stars
4/03/02 Edfink Lombardo The most overrated film of the '90s...Some good acting aside, this film is a waste 2 stars
3/04/02 Jennifer Birkhead Michael Douglas best player by far; too bad his bride thinks her shit don't stink! 3 stars
3/04/02 Marcia Lartz I didn't even notice Benicio del Toro. Academy is off its rocker! 3 stars
3/01/02 Alan Smithee Only the mexican sub-plot is worth watching. Everything else is crap. 2 stars
2/21/02 Jeff boring as all hell 2 stars
2/20/02 Xaver Depressing. Some prime acting. 3 stars
2/19/02 srm realistic???? white suburban kids always buy drugs at inner city crack houses. yeah right 4 stars
1/21/02 Spyguy2 Del Toro kicked ass as the Mexican cop...very good, but I heard the original is better 4 stars
1/12/02 hd the worst movie i ever saw i didnt understand 1 stars
11/03/01 Andrew Carden A Very Good Movie With Great Sub Plots and Acting. 5 stars
10/03/01 Phoenix Del Toro is a weird looking guy, but he sure is a great actor. Excellent movie. 5 stars
8/18/01 LawHog24 The Mexico part (and DelToro) kicks all ass...the US part is a bad USA Networks flick. 3 stars
8/15/01 Dakamus I paid seven dollars to take a two hour nap in my local theater!?! Suck-ass movie! 1 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Soderbergh helms this jumpy tale with a mastery foer the craft. Great film. 5 stars
8/02/01 G-Man Perfect. Very thought provoking. 5 stars
7/29/01 Jennifer Gaissert Del Toro was great, but the editing made me dizzy 4 stars
7/28/01 Steve Definitely overhyped/overrated. Not very exciting. Great documentary though. 4 stars
7/28/01 Adam I thought it was a little dull, seems like a mix of very deep and very shallow messages. 4 stars
7/21/01 Phil M. Afficianado The accolates are well deserved. 5 stars
7/19/01 skye over-rated. good flick. been done. 4 stars
7/17/01 svetlana a good message...but damn does it drag on and on 4 stars
7/02/01 TLsmooth Benicio saves this neverending shit-burger 3 stars
7/01/01 Jed overblown, overhyped Miami Vice crime saga. Soderbergh is a hack. 1 stars
6/30/01 Pop will eat itself loved it. although topher grace was fucking annoying. I kept waiting for M.D. to smack him 5 stars
6/21/01 Jim Renwick Over-rated 3 stars
6/19/01 Jake Del Toro only bright spot in this pretentious epic. Soder 1 stars
6/17/01 The Bomb 69 powerful is the best word to describe it 5 stars
6/05/01 Muad'Dib Probably should have taken Best Picture 5 stars
6/04/01 Monday Morning I was mildly disappointed that Catherine didn't take her shirt off. Movie was just average. 3 stars
6/01/01 greensweater Douglas & Zeta are lame. Eric Foreman steals the show. 2 stars
5/24/01 Jason Disappointing, overated coming out Blow beats it by far 3 stars
5/12/01 IM Great, great film....better than the boredom of the 5 hour miniseries 5 stars
4/24/01 Greg No, the comments came from people with pulses 1 stars
4/23/01 Skip Young The 3 comments below are out of touch with reality. 5 stars
4/22/01 Luke Me and my friend chucked fizzo lollies at people the whole time, oh it was very humerous :) 1 stars
4/19/01 Greg Very predictable, just like any other drug movie except no excitement. 1 stars
4/14/01 Bill B Simply the worst. 3 people were asleep in my row alone. 1 stars
4/12/01 Piz Del Toro & company are dizzying and compelling..it gets flat at times tho 4 stars
4/04/01 Hawkeye Gritty, realistic and anything but a "feel good" movie. Go see it! 5 stars
3/27/01 Matthew Bartley Deserved every one of its awards 5 stars
3/25/01 neil bartlett I sat riveted. A job well done. Del Toro deserves his Oscar 5 stars
3/25/01 zeitgeist oh, the futility 5 stars
3/23/01 Alex Benicio del Toro was amazing 5 stars
3/22/01 JB No great but good. Great cast. Cool arrangement of scenes. 3 stars
3/20/01 bjshrink Disappointing. Hedged its bets, then ended up with a sentimental, Hollywood ending. 3 stars
3/17/01 JB How come all the baddies are Mexican or black? How come there are no corrupt US police? 3 stars
3/12/01 viking A film we should all see 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike This guy made Erin Brokavich? 5 stars
3/03/01 Rael One of the most skillfully acted and directed films of recent years. 5 stars
3/03/01 Gini We're losing the drug war; that's a fucking revelation?! 1 stars
3/03/01 Suzz good but predictable 4 stars
3/01/01 manual_overide Loved it!! I live like 10 seconds from where they filmed the drug scenes in Cincinnati!!! 5 stars
2/21/01 Fredy Not realistic enough. Where were the hollywood producers sniffing coke... hmmm? 2 stars
2/20/01 Rocket Boy Agreed, one of 2000s best 5 stars
2/19/01 W. Sharif One of the best films of 2000 5 stars
2/17/01 Ken VERY long but VERY good as well. Watch it if you want something to think about. 5 stars
2/13/01 Artist Freak Complex, incisive film about a Gordian knot of an ignored problem. 5 stars
2/12/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Aside from the rather gag-inducing offscreen romance of CZJ & MD, not bad at all. 4 stars
2/12/01 bob buttons this movie fucking sucks way too long, too many subplots that no one understands. fuck it. 2 stars
2/11/01 Julie Loved it.......This movie shows the way it really is. 5 stars
2/11/01 john d(THE DUDE) A pile of shit 1 stars
2/10/01 astrotart Drug war movie tells you how it is without the use of dramatic overkill or happy endings. 4 stars
2/08/01 I Campbell Catch it on cable. Too forula and preachy. Del Toro is the only actor worth mentioning. 2 stars
2/07/01 Johnny Figaro Dash of style can't overcome 2-D characters and plot. In a better year would be ignored. 3 stars
2/07/01 ObiWan I've seen stronger epics. Del Toro, Cheadle were good, but OVERRATED 3 stars
2/06/01 Gordon Lawrie Like a 2 1/2 hour episode of "Miami Vice" nothing new here 2 stars
2/05/01 Bobby Too much hype 2 stars
2/04/01 Stuntman it was freaking awesome 5 stars
2/03/01 Owen Croak A 2.5 hr film ought to make some sort of statement in that time. Traffic doesn't. 2 stars
2/02/01 Kert Gartner Fucking awesome! 5 stars
2/01/01 Patrick Tiffany good good good good 5 stars
1/31/01 R Kramer Everyone needs to see this film. Is the drug war insane or what!!! 4 stars
1/29/01 Matthew Bartley Enthralling, terrific, suspenseful, intelligent, absorbing,thrilling what more do you want? 5 stars
1/28/01 rubber VERY mediocre 3 stars
1/25/01 Blubberbot It had some good parts and some bad parts. I'd rather watch a documentary on the subject. 3 stars
1/23/01 ObiWab Worth the price of a ticket to see Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. The screenplay sucked. 4 stars
1/21/01 Unommon Sense Slept through much of it. No excitement, no suspense,little English.Too much subtitling 2 stars
1/21/01 Evan Price beautifully executed drug drama 5 stars
1/19/01 Marguerite absolutley loved it! Needed another 10 minutes! 5 stars
1/17/01 loser owns 5 stars
1/17/01 Jes Very artistic... 5 stars
1/15/01 Jim Kidd One part of me said it sucked but the other part bitchslapped that side and said it rocked! 5 stars
1/15/01 Silo It really sucks when the daughter dies at the end! 5 stars
1/14/01 Jefferson Darcy Stupid people walking out of the theater say "That was so boring". I almost hit them. 4 stars
1/13/01 orpy mostly great movie; depressing though 4 stars
1/13/01 rob Pretty damn good, but could be better 4 stars
1/12/01 bartv Exciting, engrossing, good acting. CZ Jones was a great villain. 5 stars
1/11/01 tnt Interesting and enjoyable...very real 4 stars
1/11/01 Boy In The Designer Bubble I'm so bored with drug flicks. I'm gonna have to get stoned to sit thru another one. 3 stars
1/10/01 DAVE Time and time again you'll think it's over, but it's far from it. 4 stars
1/10/01 Matt69 Great peformances by the coke head daughter and Benico del toro 5 stars
1/09/01 brian doesn't insult the audience... real people....not one dimensional hollywood characters 5 stars
1/09/01 puckfreak Over-hyped, surely not "Fucking Awesome" but worthy of a "Worth A Look" 4 stars
1/09/01 denise this is a bad ass movie! wonderful on many levels. 5 stars
1/09/01 Kiss My Grits damn best film i've seen in a long long time 5 stars
1/08/01 poetcdh Washed out colors are tedious, CZJ character makes big change from naive to player, how? 3 stars
1/07/01 Robert Goddamned good filmmaking. Exposes the realities of the failed war on drugs. 5 stars
1/07/01 Thor-Leo Too long. Neither engaging nor affecting. Too many characters, most of them poorly realized 3 stars
1/07/01 zak this is a true horror film, becasue it's quite possibly the world we live in 5 stars
1/06/01 Meagan A very realistic look at the drug problem without providing easy answers. 5 stars
1/06/01 frankko the best movie of 2000. 5 stars
1/06/01 Foreman One of the best movies I've ever seen. Everyone & everything is amazing, even Topher Grace! 5 stars
1/05/01 Harlan Pepper I loved everything about this movie. Even the music is cool. 5 stars
1/05/01 Schwartzy Great direction! Brilliant cinematography! 5 stars
12/27/00 Emily This movie is about to blow up like crazy! 5 stars
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