March 20, 2001


“Traffic”

 

       I don’t know that I can even find the words to express how much I hated “Traffic.”  I found it to be a miserable, awful, severely dull, badly photographed, very poorly written, terribly directed, horrendously overlong, headache-inducing piece of shit.  As far as I’m concerned, “Traffic” represents everything wrong with contemporary movies.
       Let’s start at the top of my grievances -- there’s no lead character.  With no lead character, there’s no point of view, therefore there’s no possible way to structure the story properly.  The three acts end when the lead character reaches various points of no return.  But if you have no lead
character, nothing applies.  You may well be using a big, ensemble cast, but you must still have a lead.  Without a lead character, your script is WRONG!  It’s not experimental, it’s not new wave, it’s not ground-breaking -- it’s bad, it’s inept and it’s poorly written.
       I’m completely sick to death of movies being shot using the angled shutter, like all the Mexico scenes in “Traffic,” as well as all of “Three Kings” and “Saving Private Ryan.”  It’s a sucky effect that doesn’t help me, the viewer, to see what I’m looking at.  The rest of the photography is like a text book of what lens NOT to use in any given circumstance, unless, of course, the point is giving the viewer a headache, which this film did to me.
       Making a film with a decent pace is such a long-dead concept it’s probably not worth bringing up at this late date, but I will anyway.  “Traffic” NEEDS to be 147 minutes long?  I completely fucking disagree!  I had everything (and more) that this film had to offer in 90 minutes, then there was another hour of pure masturbation -- let’s go back to every scene we’ve already been to over and over again without giving us any new information.
       Meanwhile, the three ostensible stories we’re being told are all crap.  If the idea is to give us a well-rounded view of drugs, I certainly got no positive side of the issue.  As the old expression goes, “The abuse of a thing is no argument against the use of it.”  ANYTHING can be abused.  You can kill yourself with organic yogurt if you eat too much of it.
       In “Traffic” we’ve got story #1: Michael Douglas is the new head of the DEA, with no real clue how to proceed with his job, who also happens to have a daughter that’s freebasing cocaine.  Of course, his daughter is so fucked up at the age of sixteen that she’s letting African-American drug dealers have sex with her for drugs.  I wouldn’t have been even slightly surprised if they’d shown her having sex with animals for the drugs.  In this stupid, cliché-ridden story, this rich, white, intelligent girl has sunk to the lowest position imaginable -- giving up the precious white pussy to a black man for drugs.  Well, what could possibly be worse?  I suppose she could marry the guy.
       On top of that, Michael Douglas as the new head of the DEA is trying figure out how to win the war on drugs.  Of course, there is no winning the war on drugs, not as long as people want them, and people have always wanted them.  The only clear answer, in my opinion, which is legalization, is never brought up.  If you want kids to stop getting drugs, legalize them and make it so you have to be 18 or 21 to get them and show I.D. and a lot less kids will get them.  But no, that’s not even an option is this film, which is supposedly giving us all sides of the issue.  So, how does Douglas’ character resolve his problem as head of the DEA?  He doesn’t, in any way, shape or form.  It’s simply blown off, as happens so frequently in bad scripts.
       Story #2 is a confusing tale of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Douglas) and her husband, Steven Bauer, who is arrested for dealing.  Since they have money and a good lawyer, it seems fairly certain that Bauer will get off.  But for dramatic purposes, Ms. Zeta-Jones Douglas has the Tijuana drug cartel kill the witness, improbably poisoning him while he’s in custody and sitting in front of a half dozen DEA agents.
       Story #2 ½ is about the DEA agents, led by Don Cheadle (who will always be Sammy Davis, Jr., to me from now on), that are bugging and following Catherine Zeta-Jones, but doing such a half-assed job that she brings them lemonade in their surveillance truck.  At one point in this “story,” an assassin attempts to kill one of the DEA agents but is instead killed by another assassin at the exact same moment.  Right!  This wins for the stupidest plot turn I’ve seen in a film in a while.
       Story #3 takes confusion to a new level as we follow two Mexican policemen in Tijuana, who seemingly don’t know which side they're on.  They’ll bust you for drugs, but happily take a bribe and let you go.  The army seems to run the police force, but the army -- God forbid -- is corrupt, too.  Hello everybody!  Mexico is a third-world country with a huge population, rampant poverty, and a very long border with the USA, where we highly desire drugs.  Do we really expect them to stop selling us drugs at very high prices, which is more money than these people will ever see under any other circumstances, because that’s how our government wants it?  Get real!
       Once again, if we REALLY wanted to stop all this trouble with drugs at the Mexican border, we’d simply legalize the drugs, then supervise and tax their import.  Do you have any idea how many wasted billions of dollars the U.S. government would save each year?  Not to mention all the added revenue from the new taxes, which would clearly be as high as cigarette and liquor taxes.
       But this possibility is NEVER broached.  In 147 confused, repetitive, slow minutes we are never given the one possible answer to all of the questions.
       Within this whole horrible mess, Benicio Del Toro is giving a perfectly OK performance that is somehow being hailed as the second-coming of Christ.  He does have an interesting face, but he certainly doesn’t do all that much from an acting standpoint.
       As a discussion of a contemporary issue, “Traffic” is a dismal failure because it won’t look at the entire topic or suggest any actual possibilities for its correction.  As entertainment, it’s dreadfully boring and therefore an even bigger failure.  As an exercise in filmmaking, it’s a total jerk-off and to me it was like being clubbed on the skull with a brick.
       After 2 ½ hours of this excremental film, my head hurt so bad that my only recourse was to smoke a big fat joint.


-Josh Becker

 

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