Traffic ★★★

I like the idea of these large cast stories but they’re difficult to pull off. Even with a lengthy runtime the characters here feel sketchily drawn a lot of the time, and the film’s understanding of the larger social context they exist in is superficial at best. Also, in a very transparent ploy to convince the audience that drugs are bad, the film shows how the life of a nice rich white girl is ruined by them. Eventually she ends up in the bed of a black drug dealer, and the way it’s staged is, frankly, pretty racist. The writers seemed vaguely aware of how problematic this scenario is because they have one character try to lampshade it, but said character is also a reprehensible enabler who immediately launches into some sort of weird theory of capitalism after calling attention to the racism. The whole plotline surrounding the girl is invariably shallow and insulting. 

Additionally, the photography is godawful. Why anyone would choose to make a film look like this is beyond me. There were many moments that I thought a shot looked like it could have been nice, if it hadn’t been shaky, out-of-focus, and color-graded to the point of being literally monochromatic. It’s one of the ugliest films I’ve ever seen.

So why does it rate 3 stars from me? Well, it never bored me. Some of the plotlines were engaging and some of the characters genuinely interesting. The acting was fine, in general. It has Miguel Ferrer in it, and that guy always scores a few extra points in my book. It’s an interesting movie to watch. It’s just not as intelligent as it wants to think it is.

Recommendation: skip this one, and if you want to watch a movie about how drugs are bad, watch Requiem for a Dream. And if you’ve already watched that, watch it again, because it’s loads better than this one.