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Traffic (2000, Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro)



Based on Channel 4’s BAFTA, Emmy and RTS award winning drama Traffik , Soderbergh’s film was similarly lauded, winning four Oscars, two BAFTAs and two Golden Globe awards. Like the original series, the plot contains three distinct strands which only briefly meet, but all are inter-connected by one theme – the proliferation of drugs trafficking (specifically cocaine) from Mexico to America.

Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA winning Benicio Del Toro plays Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican cop who likes the quiet life (and the odd small bribe) but finds himself caught up in the intrigues of army General Salazar (Tomas Milian). In America, FBI agents are keeping watch on Carlos Ayala (Steve Bauer), a respectable millionaire and his wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has no idea how her husband makes his money – until he’s busted. Finally, Michael Douglas plays Robert Wakefield, appointed by the President as the ‘Drugs Czar’ to tackle the growing problem, a problem exemplified by his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen), once a straight-A student, now a crack-cocaine addict who’s turned to prostitution to feed her habit.

The individual plots are all self-contained but each complements the other as Soderbergh shows both the passage of drugs from Mexico into the States and the effects of the trade from the lowest to the mightiest as well as asking whether some form of legalisation might not be more effective than ineffective and expensive law enforcement. To differentiate the three stories, he effectively use different film stock, colours and tones – Carlos and Helena’s life is shown in ‘normal colours’ while Rodriguez’s story is a desaturated yellow and Wakefield’s an almost eerie blue, enabling the audience to quickly identify the switching storylines. But such is Soderbergh’s mastery that the audience are never confused while the cast are outstanding, with special credit going to Christensen as a girl trapped in a hideous life not necessarily of her own making and Del Toro as the cop caught between a rock and a hard place.

production details
USA – Germany | 147 minutes | 2000

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Script: Simon Moore, Stephen Gaghan,

Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield
Benicio del Toro as Javier Rodriguez
Jacob Vargas as Manolo Sanchez
Tomás Milián as General Arturo Salazar
Russell G. Jones as Mark
Amy Irving as Barbara Wakefield
Michael O’Neill as Lawyer Rodman
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Helena Ayala
Dennis Quaid as Arnie Metzger
Erika Christensen as Caroline Wakefield
Don Cheadle as Montel Gordon
Stacey Travis as Helena’s Friend
Benjamin Bratt as Juan Obregón
Miguel Ferrer as Eduardo Ruiz
Joel Torres as Porfilio Madrigal
Beau Holden as DEA Agent – CalTrans
Jeremy Fitzgerald as DEA Agent – CalTrans
Mary Pat Gleason as Witness #2
Michael Saucedo as Desert Truck Driver
Jose Yenque as Salazar Soldier / The Torturer
Emilio Rivera as Salazar Soldier #2
Jessica Yoshimura as Neighbor (uncredited)
Salma Hayek as Rosario
Topher Grace as Seth Abrahms
Albert Finney as Chief of Staff
Luis Guzmán as Ray Castro
Viola Davis as Social Worker
Clifton Collins Jr. as Francisco Flores
Marisol Padilla Sánchez as Ana Sanchez