Traffic is a 2000 American crime drama directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Stephen Gaghan. It explores the ilegal drug trade from a number of perspectives: a user, an enforcer, a politician and a trafficker. Their stories are edited together throughout the film, although some of the characters do not meet each other. The film is an adaptation of the British Channel 4 television series Traffik.
20th Century Fox, the original financiers of the film, demanded Harrison Ford play a leading role and that significant changes to the screenplay be made. Soderbergh refused and proposed the script to other major Hollywood studios, but it was rejected because of the three-hour running time and the subject matter — Traffic is more of a political film than most Hollywood productions. USA Films, however, liked the project from the start and offered the film-makers more money than Fox. Soderbergh operated the camera himself and adopted a distinctive cinematography tint for each story so that audiences could tell them apart.
Traffic was critically acclaimed and earned numerous awards, including four Oscars: Best Director for Steven Soderbergh, Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro, Best Adapted Screenplay for Stephen Gaghan and Best Film Editing for Stephen Mirrione. It was also a commercial success with a worldwide box-office revenue total of $207.5 million, well above its estimated $46 million budget.
In 2004, USA Network ran a miniseries—also called Traffic—based on the American film and the earlier British television series.
- Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
- Produced by: Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
- Written by: Stephen Gaghan
- Story by: Alastair Reid
- Starring: Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones
- Music by: Cliff Martinez
- Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh
- Edited by: Stephen Mirrione
- Country: U.S.A.
- Language: English, Spanish
- Running time: 148 minutes
- Budget: $46 million
- Box Office: $208 million
- Release date: February 8, 2000
- Distributed by: Universal Pictures
In Mexico, police officer Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) and his partner Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) stop a drug transport and arrest the couriers. Their arrest is interrupted by General Salazar (Tomas Millan), a high-ranking Mexican official who decides to hire Javier.
Salazar instructs Javier to apprehend Francisco Flores (Clifton Collins Jr.), a hitman for the Tijuana Cartel, headed by the Obregón brothers.
Back in Tijuana, Flores, under torture, gives Salazar the names of important members of the Obregón cartel, who are arrested.
Javier and Salazar's efforts begin to cripple the Obregón brothers' cocaine outfit, but Javier soon discovers General Salazar is a pawn for the Juarez Cartel, the rival of the Obregón brothers. That entire portion of the Mexican anti-drug campaign is a fraud, as Salazar is wiping out one cartel because he has aligned with another for profit.
Javier's partner Sanchez attempts to sell the information of Salazar's true affiliation to the DEA but is killed for his betrayal. Javier, who can no longer stomach working for Salazar, decides to make a deal with the real DEA. In exchange for his testimony, Javier requests electricity in his neighborhood so the kids can play baseball at night rather than be tempted by street gangs and crime. Salazar's secrets are revealed to the public and he is arrested and dies in prison.
Javier explains to the media about the widespread corruption in the police force and army. In Mexico, Javier watches as children play baseball at night in their new stadium.
Meanwhile, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a conservative Ohio judge, is appointed to head the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy, taking on the title drug czar. Robert is warned by his predecessor (James Brolin) and several influential politicians that the War on Drugs is unwinnable.
His daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen), an honors student, has been using cocaine and heroin which gradually develops into a drug addiction after her boyfriend Seth (Topher Grace) introduces her to free-basing cocaine. Caroline and Seth are arrested when a fellow student overdoses on drugs at a party.
As Robert and his wife Barbara (Amy Irving) struggle to deal with the problem, he discovers that she has known about their daughter's involvement with drugs for over six months.
Robert realizes his daughter Caroline is a drug addict and is caught between his demanding new position and difficult family life.
On a visit to Mexico, he is encouraged by the successful efforts of Salazar in hurting the Obregón brothers.
When he returns to Ohio, Robert learns his efforts to see Caroline rehabilitated have failed. She ran away to the city of Cincinnati, where no one knows her location. She steals from her parents to procure money for drugs. Her addiction leaves her vulnerable, and she quickly becomes the victim of human trafficking.
Robert drags Seth along as he begins to search Cincinnati for his daughter. After a drug dealer who is prostituting Caroline refuses to reveal her whereabouts, Robert breaks into a seedy hotel room and finds a semi-conscious Caroline being raped by an older man. He breaks down in tears as Seth quietly leaves.
Robert returns to Washington, D.C., to give his prepared speech on a "10-point plan" to win the war on drugs. In the middle of the speech, he falters, then tells the press that the War on Drugs implies a war even on some people's own family members, which he cannot endorse. He then walks out of the press conference and takes a taxi to the airport. Robert and Barbara go to Narcotcs Anonymous meetings with their daughter to support her and others.
A third story is set in San Diego, where an undercover DEA investigation led by Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzmán) leads to the arrest of Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer), a high-stakes dealer posing as a fisherman.
Ruiz decides to take the dangerous road to immunity by giving up his boss: drug lord Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer), the biggest distributor for the Obregón brothers in the United States. Ayala is indicted by a tough prosecutor, hand-selected by Robert Wakefield to send a message to the Mexican drug organizations.
As the trial against Carlos Ayala begins, his pregnant wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) learns of her husband's true profession. Facing the prospect of life imprisonment for her husband and death threats against her only child, Helena decides to hire Flores to assassinate Eduardo Ruiz; she knows killing Ruiz will effectively end the trial nolle prosequi. Flores plants a ar bomb on a DEA car in an assassination attempt against Eduardo Ruiz. Shortly after planting the bomb, Flores is assassinated by a sniper in retaliation for his co-operation with General Salazar; the car bomb kills agent Castro, but Gordon and Ruiz survive.
Helena, after the failed attempt to kill Eduardo Ruiz and knowing Ruiz is soon scheduled to testify, makes a deal with Juan Obregón (Benjamin Bratt), lord of the drug cartel, who forgives the debt of the Ayala family and has Ruiz poisoned.
Carlos Ayala is released, much to the dissatisfaction of Gordon, who is still angry over the death of his partner. Soon after the release, Gordon bursts into the Ayala home and surreptitiously plants a listening bug under his desk and leaves.
- Michael Douglas - Robert Wakefield
- Benicio Del Toro - Javier Rodriguez
- Don Cheadle - Montel Gordon
- Dennis Quaid - Arnie Metzger
- Catherine Zeta-Jones - Helena Ayala
- Luis Guzman - Ray Castro
- Erika Christensen - Caroline Wakefild
- Topher Grace - Seth Abrahams
- Amy Irvin - Barbara Wakefield
- Jacob Vargas - Manolo Sanchez
- Miguel Ferrer - Eduardo Ruiz
- Tomas Millan - General Salazar
- Steven Bauer - Carlos Ayala
- Clifton Collins Jr - Francisco Flores
- Salma Hayek - Rosario
- Benjamin Bratt -Juan Salazar
|2. No Swinging the Club in the Car|
|4. What's Your Daughter On?|
|5. You Two Don't Like Me|
|6. La Cagaste|
|7. The West End|
|8. I Know She's In There|
|9. La Pura Verdad|
|10. Just Shoot Him|
|11. Loading the Plane|
|12. I Can't Do This|
|13. The Police Won't Help You Find Your Car|
|14. Piano Sonata #1 in F Minor movement #?|
|15. On the Rhodes Again - Morcheeba|
|16. Give the Po' Man a Break - Fatboy Slim|
|17. Rockers Hi Fi (Love and Insanity Dub)- Kruder and Dorfmeister Sessions|
|18. Ascent (An Ending)|
Box Office performance:
Traffic was given a limited release on December 27, 2000 in four theaters where it grossed USD $184,725 on its opening weekend.
It was given a wide release on January 5, 2001 in 1,510 theaters where it grossed $15.5 million on its opening weekend. The film would make $124.1 million in North America and $83.4 million in foreign markets for a worldwide total of $207.5 million, well above its estimated $48 million budget.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 92% of critics gave the film positive write-ups, based on a sample of 154, with an average score of 8/10, and the consensus being "Soderbergh successfully pulls off the highly ambitious Traffic, a movie with three different stories and a very large cast. The issues of ethics are gray rather than black-and-white, with no clear-cut good guys. Terrific acting all around." At Metacritic the film has received an average score of 86, based on 34 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "The movie is powerful precisely because it doesn't preach. It is so restrained that at one moment—the judge's final speech—I wanted one more sentence, making a point, but the movie lets us supply that thought for ourselves". Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, wrote, "Traffic is an utterly gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Or rather it is several interwoven thrillers, each with its own tense rhythm and explosive payoff". In his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris wrote, "Traffic marks [Soderbergh] definitively as an enormous talent, one who never lets us guess what he's going to do next. The promise of Sex, Lies and Videotape has been fulfilled". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A" rating and praised Benicio del Toro's performance, which critic Owen Gleiberman called, "haunting in his understatement, [it] becomes the film's quietly awakening moral center". Desson Howe, in his review for the Washington Post, wrote, "Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, who based this on a British television miniseries of the same name, have created an often exhilarating, soup-to-nuts exposé of the world's most lucrative trade". In his review for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers wrote, "The hand-held camerawork – Soderbergh himself did the holding—provides a documentary feel that rivets attention". However, Richard Schickel, in his review for Time, wrote, "there is a possibly predictable downside to this multiplicity of story lines: they keep interrupting one another. Just as you get interested in one, Stephen Gaghan's script, inspired by a British mini-series, jerks you away to another".
Top ten lists:
Traffic appeared on several critics' top ten lists for 2000. Some of the notable top-ten list appearances are:
- 2nd — A. O. Scott, The New York Times
- 2nd — Jami Bernard, New York Daily News
- 2nd — Bruce Kirkland, The Toronto Sun
- 3rd — Stephen Holden, The New York Times
- 3rd — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
- 3rd — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 4th — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- 4th — Jack Mathews, New York Daily News
Accolades:EditThe film won Academy Awards in the categories Best Director (Steven Soderbergh), Best Supporting Actor (Benicio Del Toro), Best Film Editing (Mirrione) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Stephen Gaghan). It was also nominated for Best Picture, alongside another Soderbergh film, Erin Brokovich, but lost to Gladiator. Traffic was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture - Drama, Soderbergh for Best Director, Del Toro for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture and Steven Gaghan for Best Screenplay. Both Del Toro and Gaghan won in their respective categories. In addition, Del Toro won Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. He went on to win BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role along with Gahan, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
New York FIlm Critics Circle named Traffic as the Best Film, Soderbergh as Best Director, and Del Toro as Best Supporting Actor. Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Soderbergh Best Director. Members of the Toronto Film Critics Association voted Soderbergh as Best Director and del Toro as Best Actor. National Society of Film Critics also voted Soderbergh and del Toro as Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.