Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)


Benicio Del Toro (Javier Rodriguez), Michael Douglas (Robert Wakefield), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Helena Ayala), Don Cheadle (Montel Gordon), Jacob Vargas (Manolo Sanchez). Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Rating: 18. Running time: 147 minutes.

It’s no word of a lie to say that Hollywood has done the drugs genre to death, and I confess to having followed them every step of the way. American Gangster, Blow, Scarface, Carlito’s Way… the list of films churned out year after year that provide an abundance of entertainment without never really progressing into new territory is endless. At least, that was the case. Then Steven Soderbergh came along with Traffic, and all of a sudden something new was on the cards: not a rehash of that classical study of the big-ego menace behind the business, nor just a study of a cop on a relentless pursuit to stop him. Instead, that’s only a tiny part of Traffic. Here we have a study of every single stakeholder in the narcotics industry, and not for one moment does it stop being fascinating.

Cops, then, are everywhere, but they’re of all kinds and at all levels: Mexican intel on the streets and corrupt officials in the office; American politicians in charge of a country-wide crackdown, and their soldiers making arrests and creating informants down below. Then throw in the drug lord himself, under arrest due to the film’s said informant and with a wife discovering and wrestling with her husband’s previously hidden activities, whilst he fights his case in court. Finally, the American kids themselves, in school but also on cocaine, having their lives destroyed by the inability of a great country to regulate its borders.

The fact one of those adolescent junkies happens to be the top drug-fighting politician’s daughter personalises matters perfectly, and all these layers of story, so easily capable of tangling into an incomprehensible web, somehow blend together with what feels like complete ease. The story’s rich in detail and heavy going, of the type that demands a second viewing to fully appreciate. But that doesn’t detract from its initial impact as a hard hitting analysis of stunning depth, simultaneously entertaining and informing on the complexities of the drug trade, and, more importantly, the drug war.

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