Synopsis and review: Film TRAFFIC 
Incidentally, I just read rumors about Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film project (as everyone knows, best director Oscar 2010 for the film The Hurt Locker) in the digital film magazine FlickMagazine. The title of the latest film is Triple Frontier. This is an action and drama film, with a story setting about drug trafficking. Just reading that part, I already imagined Traffic, a film by Steven Soderbergh (director Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s and The Informant series) in 2000. And on Flick it was said that Triple Frontier would have something in common with Traffic. Now I want to review the film Traffic, a heavy film that actually became a worldwide box office in 2000.
Traffic is a star-studded film for me. Maybe in the past there were many who didn’t have a ‘name’, but now the names of the stars who played in Traffic are quite taken into account in Hollywood. The theme is quite heavy, about drug kingpins and mafias involved in drug trafficking to and from the superpower of the United States.
I’m not a big fan of action movies, I only watch action movies if the actors I really like. And the reason I watched Traffic was because I wanted to see Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in one movie. Although they were never in one scene in this film.
Traffic itself when viewed in outline is a multiplot film. There are at least three plots in this film. The first plot seen at the beginning of the film, is set in Tijuana, Mexico. Two cops, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargaz), are operating and busting a drug courier who is on his way carrying drugs in the desert. The two cops are tasked with dismantling the Obregon cartel, a giant drug cartel in Tijuana, which has access to America’s biggest drug dealers. Rodriguez and Sanchez are also caught between corrupt cops who are willing to exchange any information they get about the drug dealer for money.
The second plot is set in America. The central character is Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas). He was a supreme court judge in Ohio. He was appointed by the government to uncover the biggest drug smugglers in America and is working with the Mexican police to catch drug dealers there, to break the chain of drug trafficking from Mexico to America. Ironically, even though he is known to be aggressive and firm in eradicating drug cases, Robert is not aware that his only daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen), is a drug addict. As far as Robert knew, Caroline was a model student at his school. Meanwhile his wife, Barbara Wakefield (Amy Irving), hides her suspicions about her son’s addiction from her husband because she feels that young people deserve a little freedom to try drugs, just like she did when she was young. Domestic conflict occurred because Robert did not agree with Barbara’s way at all. And it could damage his reputation as the country’s drug czar.
Worse, apart from drug addiction, Caroline was involved in prostitution, just to get illegal drugs. The point is that Caroline’s story is really messy. Caroline’s boyfriend, Seth (Topher Grace), who eventually becomes Robert’s go-to man, tells him where his son is looking for drugs and sells himself, because Seth is also the one who introduced drugs to Caroline.
The third plot is more dramatic and complicated. The story centers on the condition of Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a mother of a boy and 6 months pregnant with her second child, who during her marriage thought that her husband, Carlos Ayala (David Bauer), was a successful businessman. In fact, Carlos is not a businessman at all, but he is America’s largest drug dealer. He’s a supplier of illegal drugs.
Helena feels that her life is extremely harmonious until one day Carlos is arrested by the DEA, under the leadership of undercover agents, Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luiz Guzman), who have been spying on Carlos. Accompanied by her husband’s lawyer and best friend, Arnie Metzger (Dennis Quaid), Helena goes through various pressures.
Helena eventually became involved in the drug trafficking business after she ran out of money to pay off her husband’s debts, while dealers who still owed their husbands did not want to pay off their debts for fear of being implicated by the DEA. Furthermore, Helena’s instinct to free her husband from prison leads her to do all sorts of things, including hiring a notorious hit man to kill the main witness in her husband’s case.
Helena is also indirectly forced to negotiate with Juan Obregon (Benjamin Bratt), owner of the Obregon cartel, the largest drug cartel in Tijuana, who previously had talks about drug smuggling with her husband.
And this 150-minute film really feels heavy for fans of romantic comedy dramas like me to enjoy. Ha ha ha. Initially, this film lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, but with cuts here and there, the final result was 2 hours and 20 minutes. Long enough. Erm, very long, to be precise. Hehehe…
Steven Soderbergh is really detailed in entering every scene and selecting actors in this film. Every film that was shot in Tijuana was shot using a hand-held camera. It’s really obvious in the film, how the shooting is really dynamic, especially for fast-paced scenes. He also operated his own hand-held camera for the Tijuana scenes. Because he felt he needed to make as little distance as possible between the camera and the actors, so that the audience could feel the turmoil in the film.
Steven Soderbergh also intelligently provides different shades of color in each plot. Pay attention. Every scene in Tijuana, Soderbergh saturates the color with yellow. It’s like playing mode on a digital camera or cellphone camera, a little like sephia. But the tone is more yellow, and the contrast is really high. Tastes dry, sharp and ‘hard’, like describing life in Mexico.
Every scene that deals with Robert Wakefield, whether in Ohio or in Washington DC, the color turns blue. Like a cool effect on a digital camera. These colors make us more carried away. The atmosphere in each part of “Wakefield” is definitely cold, sad, gloomy and really depressive.
For Ayala’s part, Steven made the colors bright, shining, warm, saturated in the main colors, especially red. I think it fits Helena’s ‘glittering’ life, but in a negative and depressing way.
This is done so that the audience does not have to guess what plot they are in the film. Just by feeling the color, the audience already knows which story they are watching. Soderbergh also wants the audience to be able to focus on the story and its many characters, to be able to understand the plot which is a bit complicated but has links to each plot.
And it doesn’t feel like anything is miscast in this film. Benicio Del Toro was awarded the best supporting actor Oscar in 2000 for his role in this film. And he is one of four Oscar-winning actors to win the award for a role that is not in English.
Ninety percent of Benicio’s dialogue in this film is in Spanish, so they used subtitles in this film to understand what Benicio and the police are saying, which is set in Tijuana. The use of dialogue in Spanish is intended not to reduce the sense of Mexican culture. Just imagine, it wouldn’t be so cool if scenes in Mexico were in English, even though the majority of stories in Mexico are about police and drug dealers, who are originally Mexican. Benicio desperately developed his Spanish in this role because he didn’t want him to be mediocre throughout the film and in the end the director decided to dub his voice in English out of frustration with his Spanish standard.
Michael Douglas also got really good chemistry. The dilemma between the judge investigating the drug case and the father of a teenage drug addict can be seen from his stressed expression. How was his reaction when he found out that his daughter was actually using drugs, when his daughter started stealing his wife’s jewelry to buy drugs. And how worried he was when his daughter didn’t come home, and he himself had to go down to the drug dealer’s area to look for his daughter from one hotel to another. The dilemma is obvious! Michael Douglas is really perfect playing! 😀
Even though he initially turned down the role of Judge Wakefield. The role was offered to Harrison Ford, and Harrison asked Soderbergh to develop the previously standard Wakefield character. But in the end, Harrison was canceled because there was no honorarium agreement. The role was offered back to Michael Douglas, and Michael was happy with Wakefield’s new character. Finally he accepted the role. And he went perfectly… 🙂
Not to mention Benjamin Bratt, who plays Juan Obregon, who only appears in one or two scenes! He’s the person most characters in all movies are looking for! The thin mustache and the look in his eyes really showed him that he was a ruthless character. Cruel is not in the size of the killer. But he’s really straight when it comes to drug problems. Negotiations that don’t benefit him will not be entertained. No mercy.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is not left behind to be commended. In a state of real pregnancy (pregnant with Douglas’s child, and a few months after the film was finished, they got married). Initially, Helena was described as a mother of two children. But after Zeta-Jones negotiated with Soderbergh, Soderbergh wanted to change his character to a pregnant woman. And it’s so stressful! Already taking care of a small child, pregnant, husband is in jail, in debt, he has to get involved in his husband’s dark business too! Brilliant! It really looks like how Helena tries to be brave and turn into a tough woman in dealing with her husband’s case. From the beginning she was an elite upper-class mother with a luxurious life, to get involved in dirty business and assassination attempts.
Erika Christensen and Topher Grace were both very young and didn’t have a list of films to be proud of at that time. But both are definitely eye-catching. And it’s clear to be a film critic’s observation for his future career. Now, ten years after Traffic, Topher is remembered as both the Buggle photographer and Venom in Spider-Man 3 and opposite Anne Hathaway in one of the Valentine’s Day plots.
This film clearly carries a message about the war against drugs. But as I caught in the dialogue between Eduardo and Seth, we can never win against drugs. The cycle of drug trafficking has been going on for a long time and will not be able to stop. The American government has long since given up on drugs. But there are a small number of them, like Judge Wakefield, who refuse to accept that fact and work hard to uncover drug cases in their country.
No matter how hard they work to uncover the mastermind behind the biggest drug trade, no one will ever get away with it. Like the case of Ayala, who was finally able to return to her family’s arms.
But like Wakefield, Montel Gordon doesn’t stop there. The ending of the film hangs when Gordon enters Ayala’s house again and installs a bugging device, to once again prove that Ayala deserves to be punished for her crime, which also caused her partner, Ray, to die.