REVIEW: TRAFFIC – THE MINISERIES

 

CAST

Elias Koteas (Crash)
Cliff Curtis (Blow)
Balthazar Getty (Alias)
Martin Donovan (Legends of Tomorrow)
Mary McCormack (Deep Impact)
Ritchie Coster (The Tuxedo)
Nelson Lee (Blade: The Series)
Justin Chatwin (War of The Worlds)
Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG.1)

It’s easy to get confused about what, exactly, is Traffic: The Miniseries, considering that there’s a feature film of the same name, and a British miniseries called Traffik that’s regarded as having inspired both the film and the U.S. miniseries. But the only thing that Traffic: The Miniseries has in common with these productions is its use of drug trafficking as the central plot point, and its use of an ensemble cast and multiple, interwoven story threads. Other than that loose connection, Traffic: The Miniseries stands on its own… and it stands very solidly indeed.

Four main stories are at the core of Traffic: Mike McKay (Elias Koteas) a DEA agent working to track down heroin delivery routes in Afghanistan; his wife Carole (Mary McCormack) and teenaged son Tyler (Justin Chatwin) who have just moved to Seattle; an ambitious businessman (Balthazar Getty) who discovers the shady but profitable world of smuggling; and a Russian taxi driver (Cliff Curtis) who is waiting for the arrival of his wife and daughter through the network of smuggled “illegals.” In one way or another, all four stories connect to the mysterious sinking of a ship off the coast of Seattle, to the drug trade, and potentially also to a global terrorist network.

Traffic runs a total of four hours and 23 minutes, but its pace is so gripping that you could almost watch it in one sitting; certainly after you watch the first half you’ll be dying to see the second half. The stories are deftly laid out and intriguingly developed: in each case, we see the characters getting more and more entangled in the larger web of the story. Each story thread has its own impetus, so even before we sense any connections between them, we’re completely hooked to find out what’s going to happen in each case.

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REVIEW: TRAFFIC

CAST

Michael Douglas (Wall Street)
Amy Irving (Alias)
Benicio del Toro (Sin City)
Erika Christensen (Swimfan)
Topher Grace (That 70s Show)
James Brolin (The Amityville Horror)
Jacob Vargas (Get Shorty)
Albert Finney (The Bourne Legacy)
Catherine Zeta Jones (Entrapment)
Dennis Quaid (Jaws 3)
Clifton Collins Jr. (The Bad Pack)
Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2 & 3)
Luis Guzman (McBain)
Miguel ferrer (Robocop)
Peter Riegert (The Mask)
Benjamin Bratt (Demolition Man)
Viola Davis (Suicide Squad)
Salma Hayek (Ugly Betty)

Scripted by Stephen Gaghan, Traffic is adapted from the famous British miniseries Traffik and takes a hard look at the illegal drug trade from multiple perspectives. All sides of the issue are explored via a series of intersecting storylines. On the front lines, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) witnesses the rampant government corruption that facilitates the smuggling of drugs across the U.S. border. In the halls of American power, a politically ambitious judge (Michael Douglas) is picked as the new Drug Tsar and quickly runs into obstacles implementing new policies.

In fact, even the judge’s own daughter (Erika Christensen) and her privileged rich kid friends experiment with freebasing and begin the downward spiral of addiction. In the netherworld between these two extremes, a DEA agent (Don Cheadle) in California attempts to take down a drug running ring but finds the effort futile; even if he succeeds all he’s done is clear the way for new competition to move in. Meanwhile, a society wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose husband is indicted on trafficking charges is forced into taking over his smuggling racket to pay their debts and protect her family.

The movie has a huge cast of other recognizable faces (Dennis Quaid, Albert Finney, Luis Guzman, Amy Irving, and Miguel Ferrer among others), but it’s Del Toro who stands out in a star-making turn; he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but actually carries a big chunk of the movie and proves he can be an effective leading man. The story has an ambitious reach and a complicated structure. Soderbergh juggles all these elements with masterful control, maintaining a steady tone that emphasizes the tragedy of the situation without overstepping into preachiness, overwrought theatrics, or heavy-handed sermonizing. The movie asks many questions but is frank that it can deliver no answers. It takes no political stance either for or against our government’s policies other than to point out that they clearly aren’t working. The war on drugs is a self-generating, never-ending cycle of corruption, hypocrisy, and hopelessness with seemingly no possible solution.