Saw this on 21/4/15
Traffic is a well made film from director Steven Soderbergh that has good acting, versatile story and fine cinematography. It's cast is one of it's best features, however, it is slightly predictable despite the thrills that it provides.
Steven Soderbergh is one of those who could take any topic, and tell a story with it; how I personally feel about each one however is variable. I was not so compelled with the previous film, or "films", that I have seen from the director, which was the epic biographical tale of Che. Though even with that, I came into Traffic with a positive mindset, hoping the experience would be similar to the wonderful and exhaustive Contagion or the emotionally gripping and mesmerising King of the Hill; Traffic leans more towards the former, acting as a landscape painting of drugs in America.
The film tackles multiple aspects of the subject, similar to Contagion, and tells it with precise editing, that lets the experience feel smooth and the connections between the tales, slowly becoming clearer as time passes. Soderbergh has a gift in taking large and epic premises, and make them feel small and intimate. Traffic is more concerned on the characters rather than the bigger picture; it shows how drugs change them, motivate them, and crush them.
I did however wish that some of the film's stories were told better, as some felt limp and lacking of excitement as compared to its siblings; some characters felt a bit underdeveloped, only revealing more of themselves during the latter aspects of the film; an example would be Don Cheadle or Benicio Del Toro's characters. Dennis Quaid's character was barely even touched. I would have preferred it if Soderbergh built all of its characters more consistently and with equal concentration. If there was a character that never disengaged me, it would be Michael Douglas's character; watching his story unfold, balancing work and family, and how both are connected to the film's subject, left me in constant thought of not just the character but the larger ideas behind it.
Steven Soderbergh is slowly becoming one of my favourite directors, an artist who leaves a certain trademark in the way he handles its stories and characters, but never repeating the same subjects. He is one of the few directors who could create ensemble films and manages to get at least 90% of its core characters respectfully explored; unlike others who would have their actors drift in and out, leaving something little as a scratch in the minds of its audience.
But this hit is so far his least of his works that I've seen so far. The only topic to make his vision to work was to present three different sides of the drug war - a war on disgusting, sickening, dumb drugs that people stupidly deciding to take and minimizing their lives in each dose. Okay this isn't a flaw, but I just like to point it out when watching a live dose is a disgusting sight of unhealthy.
"Traffic" is enjoyable by the cast and their performances following an ambitious format, but it's not at the same level of Soderbergh's other works due to a few decision making to the direction turned unresolved and not being appealing. (B+)
(Full review coming soon)
Despite such critical acclaim for the film, I did not feel as much as the effect for Traffic that everyone else seemed to. I still enjoyed the film, but not as much as everyone else.
Traffic is an interesting film. It explores the world of drugs from many different angles and directions through various complex characters, and with a touch of Steven Soderbergh's direction it surely succeeds well. This is because he treats the material very well and gives everything the appropriate dramatization that it needs. The only thing is that there are many main characters in the film who play prominent roles in the story, but I felt as if the quality of the drama was not consistent as it varied between depiction of what the characters faced. Everything in the film is well acted and is handled with careful direction and a strong script, but the fact is that the intensity always varies depending on which story is being chronicled, and due to the fact that there are so many characters essential to the story it can be a lot to keep up with. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's a confusing film, it just means that there is a lot to take in from Traffic. There are so many characters and so many concepts explored that it can even be somewhat overwhelming for certain viewers. And while the slow pace of the story may give viewers some time to appropriately comprehend everything that is happening, it is likely to faze other viewers. In short, there is a lot out into Traffic because it has a story worth telling, and Steven Soderbergh's handling of the material is so firm that it deserves the Academy Award it was victorious of. It's just that Traffic is a largely ambitious film, and its ambitions may prove too large for some viewers. For me, I had a lot of appreciation for what went into the film. I just found that I wasn't entertained as consistently as I predicted. For me, the multiple story lines were not that consistently engaging. The stories all ran for the appropriate amount of time, because if they went on for much longer it would seem like they were dragged out and the pace would have been even slower. But all in all, some were more interesting than others. The stories are all important for different reasons, with some being for the subject matter which is depicted and others being for the acting. So to a certain extent all the stories in Traffic were good. They just weren't all engaging.
But there is no denying the power of Traffic. Traffic takes the perspective of several people involved with drugs: a user, an enforcer, a politician and a trafficker. It points out the wide amount of contributions that many people make to the industry and gets deeply involved in conveying the realistic drama of the situation. A lot of films regarding drugs take a very one-sided stance on the issue, and even though it is clear that the accessibility of drugs in contemporary society is very dangerous and damaging, Traffic gives us an open and fairly honest look into the dark and gritty world of it. The atmosphere of the film manages to draw a benefit from its slow pace due to the fact that it allows the intensity to gradually burn into it as the many stories unfolds. There are a lot of moments in Traffic which make a powerful striking impact on the drama of the story while others gradually.
Traffic also incurs some strong visual aspects. The scenery of the film is perfectly dry and gritty which matches the tense atmosphere and rough nature of the subject matter, and it is captured with cinematography which follows everything as it happens well and matches the mood of the film at the right moments. It is all edited to look stylish as well, and the sound effects feature strong editing at the same time which makes Traffic effective from a technical perspective in terms of both how it looks and how it sounds.
But the most important element of Traffic is the quality of the acting. As the screenplay fuels the film with great characters, the actors all require a lot of skill. That is exactly what they bring to the film.
Michael Douglas gave one of his finest performance in years. His ability to manipulate aggression and fear was very well balanced, and his line delivery was very powerful. He really had a powerful spirit in Traffic, as if he was speaking with the passion he felt for a daughter of his own when Robert Wakefield speaks of the war on drugs, and it establishes a powerful realism which strengthens the quality of Traffic as well as its dramatic impact. It's particular that his development over the course of the film is strong, and by the end of Traffic viewers will see the spirit in Michael Douglas that won him an Academy Award 12 years prior to Traffic. Michael Douglas is really firm with how he handles the material in Traffic which makes him a pivotal cast member to the success of the film.
Benicio Del Toro is quite often the most praised actor for his role in Traffic, even going so far as to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. I feel like as good as he was, he wasn't as good as Michael Douglas. Still, Benicio Del Toro is excellent in Traffic. In the role of Javier Rodriguez, Benicio Del Toro brings a lot of strength to the part by delivering a performance which shows how easily an innocent man can transition to crime, but also maintaining his sense of humanity the entire time. A lot of the power in his performance comes from his facial expressions and the inner emotional strength that he maintains. He stands strong in the part and acts with confidence which comes really organic from him, making him an important member of the cast.
Catherina Zeta-Jones puts a strong supporting performance into Traffic. The best element she brings to the part is that she is able to really draw sympathy in from viewers and ensure that they find her efforts compelling, which is what she does first. From there, she develops the character as she progresses through the storyline and gradually grasps more tenacity over the character as the tense reality that she faces becomes more edgy and dangerous. Catherine Zeta-Jones is in top form in Traffic because she gets stronger as thee film progresses and more engaged with the concepts in the subject matter which is so naturally strong that it comes off impressive.
Don Cheadle is great in Traffic because of how intense he is. He has to deal some pretty intense situations in the film and constantly remains perfectly aggressive through all of them which means that he channels into the atmosphere very well. He is terrific, and he shares a powerful chemistry with Luiz Guzman who also deals a great performance to the material.
Dennis Quaid turns in a typically powerful supporting performance as well.
So while Traffic is a slow film and is not always as interesting as it wants to be, Steven Soderbergh's incredible dedication to the film ensures that it is a well written and intense film which is acted incredibly.