The message of Traffic is loud and clear: the war on drugs is not working. Director Steven Soderbergh lays out the facts in three related stories that span the levels of the drug trade. The three stories complement each other and are well acted and engrossing. This movie is long, but the time flies by. Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, The Limey) does not present any answers, he just makes things easy for everyone to see. Traffic is based on Traffik, a British miniseries that detailed the drug trade between Britain and Pakistan. Traffic moves the setting to Mexico and the United States. Soderbergh uses different lens tints to frame each story. Some people think it to help differentiate each story, but it is more to separate each level of the drug trade.

The macro level (shot with a blue tint) involves Judge Robert Wakefield, (Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys, One Day in September) the newly appointed drug czar. He commutes between his responsibilities in Washington and his family in Cincinnati. Although this story takes place on the highest level, it is the most personal in Stephen Gaghan's (Rules of Engagement) story. Wakefield is trying to find new ways to attack the drug problem, but none of his associates can 'think outside the box.' What he does not realize is that his daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen, Leave it to Beaver) is a heavy addict. Actual government figures including Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) give their actual views on the drug war to Wakefield (talk about a wide spectrum of political views).

Helen Ayala's (Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Haunting, Entrapment) husband is in jail. She just learned that the source of their money was chiefly from the illegal drug trade. Now, she is facing mounting debts and threats from her husband's associates, which leaves her no choice but to turn to the drug trade herself. The star witness against her husband is Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer, Blank Check, Where's Marlowe), a low-level dealer who turned in Ayala for immunity. DEA Agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle, Mission to Mars, The Family Man) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman, The Limey, Out of Sight) are on the frontlines in Tijuana, and their current assignment is to watch Ayala and guard Ruiz from any retribution.

In Tijuana, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro, Snatch, The Way of the Gun) is a clean cop lost amongst rampant corruption and warring drug cartels. He is on the fast track, but the higher he rises, the harder it is for him to resist temptation. Tijuana scenes have a yellowish tint. Soderbergh makes sure that in each story touches a personal note. The effect of drugs wreaks havoc in every situation. Soderbergh uses Ruiz and Wakefield to voice his views on the war on drugs. He believes that attacking the supply is futile, and that cops realize this. As long as demand exists, there will be a supply. Strong acting complements his direction. Del Toro gives the best performance in the film. His method acting usually seems very strange, but it is extremely effective here. Ferrer, Cheadle, Guzman, and Douglas also give good turns. Few movies today have such an obvious agenda, and it takes a director like Soderbergh to convey it so well. Whether or not somebody agrees with is views is another matter entirely.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 27 minutes, Rated R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence, and some sexuality.

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