You know drugs are an easy out when half my high school class was selling them and the other half were using them!
Screenplay By: Stephen Gaghan
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Drugs are everywhere, their presence has been steadily increasing through the years. But, people who want to lament over today’s drug problem lose sight of the fact that drugs have been prevalent since before modern times. People want drugs, not everyone mind you, but a lot of people do. They want illegal drugs, prescription drugs and drugs that aren’t thought of as drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Illegal drugs, for the sake of the movie I’ll restrict myself to hard stuff like cocaine or heroin, are a big business, perhaps the biggest business in the world. The second biggest business may be the war on drugs, but the difference is one enterprise routinely prospers while the other runs in the red all the time.
I’m not going to get into my own personal drug politics, but I am someone who has spent most of his life around drugs and has seen how they affect everyone they touch. Traffic isn’t a message movie in the sense that it tries to say this is good and this is bad. It is a message movie on two fronts, first is the message that drugs affect everyone they touch. Second is the message that the war on drugs is being lost and may be more harmful than it is helpful. I happen to agree with both points, so in that regard Traffic is already off to a good start with me. But, it shouldn’t come down to personal politics, the two main points touched on in Traffic should be common sense, but they aren’t. It’s easy to see how drugs affect everyone they touch, users, dealers and those who fight against drugs are all impacted by the mere presence of drugs. The war on drugs is an abysmal failure, that much is obvious by spending a few hours in any local high school. Traffic superbly tells its tale so as not to shove these points down the viewers throats, but rather to give the viewer a glimpse at what is happening and to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
Traffic excels in the banality of the drug world and in essence the world in general. The miscommunication shown between different groups of government, the plight of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character, how the smallest of details can affect gaggles of people. At the same time it excels in showing how the most banal of things in our world are escalated tenfold in the world of drugs.
I was amazed in Traffic with the relative ease of the story and Soderbergh’s direction. Up until Traffic I was not a member of the Soderbergh fan club, but with Traffic I can see little touches that do make him a modern filmmaker to watch out for. His use of color was not something I was prepared for, but it was exquisite to take in. Each region being filmed in a different hue not only allowed the viewer to know what place they were at in a hectic and fast moving story, but it added texture to each locale. Mexico looked grimier, Ohio looked more serene, and so on. Without these markers I don’t know if the story would have flowed quite so easily, nor do I think it would have without Soderbergh’s inventive shot selection and pacing choices.
The acting in Traffic was great across the board, with nary a performance that didn’t grab my attention. Michael Douglas & Benicio del Toro are the obvious point of discussion because their performances do anchor the film. But, I was most impressed with Don Cheadle and even moreso with Luis Guzmán. There was genuine humor in Traffic, and most of it was supplied by Cheadle and Guzmán, but they were also poignant and honest characters.
It’s always a joy to discover an overlooked gem. The masses may not have overlooked Traffic, but I did and I am glad to have finally discovered it. Traffic was a well put together story with interesting characters, a compelling narrative, messages I found intriguing and honest, as well as moving at a fast pace while maintaining a unique look and feel. If you haven’t yet seen Traffic, try not to miss out on this gem like I did.