Traffic (2000)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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Synopsis & Analysis
Steven Soderbergh's Traffic is a frequently well acted, often visually appealing, but heavy-handed and uninspired film. By interweaving the largely unconnected stories of various persons, including a conservative judge and his drug addled daughter, rough narcotics agents in Mexico and the United States, and numerous persons involved in the production and distribution of illegal drugs, the director endeavors to show the corrupting influence such drugs have on all those unfortunate enough to be affected by them. Traffickers are reduced to violent animals; families are devastated; good men are killed, and so on and so on.

Soderbergh attempts to imbue his narration of these events with a gritty realism, but by including incessant unsubtle ironies, obvious and didactic plot developments, and hackneyed characterizations, he has given such a sense of falsity to this approach that the movie is rarely affecting. Over and over again, the viewer is reminded how involvement in the world of illegal drugs is morally corrupting and how such involvement inevitably leads to violence and personal degradation. We are shown how good, innocent kids are reduced to addicted prostitutes and how decent parents are made to suffer as a result of such children's problems. We are reminded that the illegal production and distribution of drugs has created a culture of brutality that will, in the end, consume any person who becomes entangled in it, and we are, repeatedly, presented with the nasty deaths of those who have entered into that world.

By so completely giving in to his desire to convince the viewer of the correctness of his ideological agenda, Soderbergh has subordinated any emotional response his film could have aroused to the didactic points he is striving so hard to make. As a consequence, he has undermined any possibility of a real emotional response on the part of the viewer. Instead of being left to engage with the film's characters and to feel their sorrow, their anger, their love, or what have you, the viewer is constantly reminded that if he experiences any such emotions they should lead him to support the director's program. While I probably would not disagree with most of Soderbergh's points, I hope he will not convert anyone to his position by bombarding that person with his manipulative fictions.

Whatever its faults, I will concede that the movie does include a number of excellent performances. Although not every actor acquits himself well, and a few, in fact, overact with some gusto, a few, such as the ever reliable Benicio Del Toro, are a real pleasure to watch.

Except for those performances, and the director's occasionally interesting visual style, Traffic is an unrelentingly insipid and unaffecting work. It is propaganda not art and is, in truth, best avoided.

Review by Keith Allen

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