- Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield
- Don Cheadle as Montel Gordon
- Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez
- Catherine Zeta-Jones as Helena Ayala
- Luis Guzman as Ray Castro
- Steven Bauer as Carlos Ayala
- Erika Christensen as Caroline Wakefield
- Miguel Ferrer as Eduardo Ruiz
Traffic is Steven Soderergh’s gritty, up close and personal look at drugs from various perspectives. Boasting an excellent cast and kinetic camerawork that gives it a feeling of a documentary, it is a kaleidoscopic look at the effects of the drug trade on different people and the consequences and situations that occur because of them.
Robert Wakefield is a judge who is appointed the high-ranking job of drugs czar, in an effort to combat the drug war that is raging. As he begins to question his new job, he becomes aware of his daughter Caroline’s serious drug problem and finds that drugs lie closer to home than he thinks. He tries everything he can to convince his daughter to give up, but the situation becomes harder and harder the more he tries and his daughter refuses help. Meanwhile in Mexico, a cop named Javier is trying also to counteract the ever-growing drug trade and supply, whilst trying to remain honest in a world where everything around him is corrupted. A further story set in San Diego concerns Montel and Ray, two undercover DEA agents attempting to bring down drug baron Carlos Ayala. After pressuring one of his friends who is on Carlos’ illegal activities, Carlos is arrested and brought to trial. His pregnant socialite wife Helena, who is at first oblivious to her husband’s job, finds out for herself. Rather than live without him and desperate, she takes matters into her own hands and goes to extreme measures as a way to free her husband.
The first thing that struck me about Traffic was the exceptional camerawork and lighting used. In order to distinguish each story, a certain colour or filter plays a pivotal part. In Robert’s story, blue is heavily used to symbolise his desperation at his daughter’s habits. Javier’s story is filmed with a blinding glow, counteracting with the corruption he witnesses on a daily basis. Helena’s story is filmed with a gold hue to show how naive she has been towards he husband’s dealings. All of this gives the audience a subtle insight into the character’s minds and how they respond to the presence of drugs in their lives. The use of a handheld camera further reiterates the struggles and conflict each character experiences, catching them off guard and examining with an almost forensic detail the various ways drugs have infiltrated their lifestyles.
The acting in the film from the ensemble cast is outstanding, especially from Douglas, Zeta-Jones and an Oscar-winning Del Toro. Michael Douglas shows the confusion of whether to concentrate on his job or help his addicted daughter from slipping any further. Catherine Zeta-Jones excels at showing Helena’s naivety in the beginning and then her gradual emergence as a scheming woman, galvanized into desperate action to clear her spouse’s name whatever the cost. Benicio Del Toro is the standout performer in Traffic, subtly portraying a man trying to remain honest but struggling when in the face of danger. In this way, he becomes the film’s heart, exuding a quiet intensity as we watch him being torn between his morals and the temptation to commit violent acts.
Steven Soderbergh has created an exceptional look at a difficult subject, without becoming preachy or cliché. Traffic is a haunting, intense and personal look at the connections of drugs and society. If you haven’t viewed Traffic, I would definitely recommend it to you.