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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Traffic': A Sprawling and Dynamic Exposé of the Multifarious Elements of America's War on Drugs

Movie poster for the 2000 film Traffic

Traffic (2000) is a sprawling and electrifying exposé into the disparate inner workings of the Illegal drug trade and the U.S. Government operatives who direct and enact drug-control policies. The narrative is built-out as a triptych of three separate yet interrelated storylines that characterize a trio of notable figures in America's ever-expansive war on drugs.

In Northern Mexico, police officer Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) is recruited by high-ranking military official General Arturo Salazar (Tomas Milian) in his efforts to cripple the towering Obregón cartel. In San Diego, DEA agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzmán) arrest high-stakes dealer Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer) who subsequently incriminates drug lord Carl Ayala (Steven Bauer)—only for Ayala's pregnant wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to succeed him. All the while, Ohio judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is appointed as America's new drug czar, overseeing international and domestic anti-drug efforts while his own daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) becomes dangerously dependent upon narcotics.

Adapted by screenwriter Stephen Gaghan from the British television serial Traffik (1989) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Ocean's Eleven), Traffic is an exceptionally well-crafted chronicle of criminality and corruption. In adapting Simon Moore and Alastair Reid's BAFTA Award-winning series, Gaghan and Soderbergh have formulated an intricate and deeply involving mosaic of intrigue, misfortune and pointed characterization—their full ensemble breathing life into the storyline's often dramatic twists and turns. With a tip of the hat to Soderbergh the cinematographer (under the alias "Peter Andrews"), Traffic is a visually magnificent and finely-honed depiction of moral ambiguity and painstaking actualization.


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