Traffic, directed by Steven Soderbergh, does more to address the complex topic of illegal drugs in and out of this country than the actual “war” on drugs does. Considering the largely naïve and inadequate government policies since the Reagan era that may not be such a shocking statement. Soderbergh’s film, however, is exactly that: shocking. It’s a panoramic look at the many, many faces of this said war on illegal drugs and the effects it has on the many characters that make the sum of this multiplied narrative. While it may never escape its BBC-inspired episodic nature, Traffic is a good long yarn that gets to the truth of the matter. It’s also, on almost every level, a success.
Propelled by the always reliable narcissism of the teenage mind and the shortsightedness that accompanies adult logic, Traffic sticks to its guns and unloads a round or two into the political and personal tragedies that have created this human mess. Turns out, we are all of us guilty. Drugs are bad, m’kay?
Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan, adapting the British mini-series “Traffik,” present a film that – shot to look as edgy as the subject matter (which each hue getting its own storyline association) – captures a moment in time that transcends the limits of the “then” and solely occupies the “here and now” of this ongoing and utterly dynamic issue. Supported by a superb cast – Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, and Topher Grace – Traffic handles its many narrative arcs with a triumphant gusto that understands the movie is a more of a project (relying on all of its parts to function correctly) that a straight-forward leading man, leading woman affair.
In one scene, Zeta-Jones, a pregnant woman in San Diego being threatened by strange men who her recently incarcerated husband owes money or product to, coos lovingly to her little boy before shouting orders for an assassin to “take the shot” and so on. Each actor or actress – unable to see what is in front of them – plays a dynamic role that demands aggression and sympathy; these are characters pulled apart and pushed extreme by the ravishes and far-reaching effects of the catastrophic drug trade.
All of them – even the conservative Ohio judge and newly crowned Drug czar of America Robert Wakefield (Douglas) and his drug-addicted daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen) – find themselves trapped in a figurative and literal box of their own creation. It’s a point the film echoes before hammering the final nail into the coffin; think outside of the box. True solutions lie there. Of course, the film can’t and shouldn’t offer suggestions. Their job is to present, ours – as the audience – is to process.
The Mexican drug cartels and American dealers that populate the film have their own storylines and, while they all carry weight, neither lose their momentum when crisscrossing into strange territory. A unified cause unites and separates them. Ironic, isn’t it? Soderbergh consistently brings a fresh eye to the material and, doubling as cinematographer, levels a critical eye onto the proceedings and makes it a more captivating and unique experience.
Traffic was a success financially and critically and also won its fair share of awards in 2000. In 2012, Criterion presents a recently remastered print for DVD holdouts and BR enthusiasts. It’s a fine film and, with this release, gets the warm welcoming it so strongly deserves.
Let the healing begin.
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Stephen Gaghan
Cast: Michael Douglas; Catherine Zeta-Jones; Benicio Del Toro; Benicio Del Toro; Jose Yenque
Genre: Crime | Drama
Tagline: No One Gets Away Clean
Memorable Movie Quote: "I don't really like guns. You shoot someone in the head three times and some pinche doctor will keep them alive."
Distributor: USA Films
Release Date: January 5, 2001
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 17, 2012
Synopsis: A contemporary thriller set in the world of drug trafficking, Traffic is from director Steven Soderbergh. The ensemble cast is headed by Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta Jones. Traffic evokes the high stakes and high risks of the drug trade, as seen through a series of interrelated stories, some of which are highly personal and some of which are filled with intrigue and danger.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - January 17, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD/DVD); BD-Live
Criterion has gone out of its way to present Traffic with all the polish and spit and sheen the film deserves. Presented in its “the director’s preferred aspect ratio” of 1.78:1, this 1080p transfer is as extreme color-coding enthusiast’s wet dream. Soderbergh has divided the narrative and the look of the film into three subject areas: (1) Mexico storyline, (2) Wakefield storyline, and (3) DEA storyline. As a result, the cinematography (grain and all) is changed to suit the storylines. Consistently, the colors are warm to extreme warm. There is a fine detail to most of the locations and wardrobe and all the many interesting faces, due to Criterion’s polish, are excellent. Some of the locations are stylistically “washed out” and, much to Soderbergh’s credit, keep the authenticity of the piece at a very grounded level. His eye is excellent and so is his dedication to delivering a solid and real look to the film. Criterion answers his call with an HD yawp that reverbs across the proverbial rooftops of the world. The sound, presented here in either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, is easily accessed and perfectly suited for the natural world it represents. The sound was originally recorded (by choice) in an assaulting wall-of-sound mono mix, so we can’t expect its remastering to have much of an effect on the auditory senses. Criterion honors its creator’s wishes and doesn’t tamper the mix with surround sound effects.
Okay, here’s the thing with this release: there’s nothing new. This fact includes the commentaries, but – in a world where commentaries are becoming much less the norm – you get three QUALITY commentaries.
- The first one is with Soderbergh and Gaghan in which they discuss their fondness for the project and whay they attempted (and did) with the material.
- The second is a vibrant cue-to-cue track with composer Cliff Martinez. This one focuses on the affect the music has on the story and what he did to match the location and tension of each of the storylines.
- The final commentary (and probably the least focused) is with producers Laura Bickford, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien.
As I revealed in the commentaries the packaging looks new and the remastering is new, but the HD spit shine ends there. All of these special features have been ported over from a previous release, but there’s simply no shame in that. They are all rich in content and done correctly. While it does suck that there’s nothing about the legacy of the film or an inside look into the remastering process, what we do have is pretty solid. The movie pushes the attention span with its running length, but that can’t stop the nearly half hour long clump of deleted scenes that provide a fascintating look at the “what-if” moments of the movie. Each deleted scene features a “different angle” look at the scene, too. The best featurettes focus on the mezmering look of processing the film went through in order to get the best look from the effected footage. There are many, many featurettes highlighting this process and they are the most fascinating part of the supplementals. There are also several “Editing” featurettes that focus on the work the sound editors went into making the film look and sound unified in spite of its many storylines and locations. Complete with a two page essay by Manohla Dargis and some smart packaging from Criterion, Traffic is a must-own for the Soderbergh fan.
- Deleted Scenes w/ optional commentary from Soderbergh (27 min)
- Film Processing (14 min)
- Dialogue Editing (7 min)
- Additional Footage (45 min)
- Trailers and TV Spots (7 min)
- Trading Cards Gallery