THREE STARS - CHALLENGING
Winning the war on drugs may only be won by liberating one life at a time. Despite the overwhelming need to attack the drug trade at our borders, the even more difficult task comes when we work to create a family where drugs are not an attraction or an escape.
“Traffic” is a hard film to watch, and not recommended for those who are put off by violence and profanity. And yet, it would be foolish for us not to see what is happening to our society in a way that is closer to us than we care to think.
Using a film style that clearly shows the depths of this drug tragedy, one could be left with a sense of despair after seeing this movie. At the same time, one has to admire those on both sides of the border who risk their lives every day against overwhelming odds.
Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a conservative Ohio Supreme Court Judge who is appointed by the President to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs. His mandate is to eradicate the never-ending flow of hard drugs into our country, and to appeal to the American public to join in this battle.
Only too soon, Wakefield is made painfully aware that this poison has infected his own family. Floundering and bored with her prep school upper class life, Robert’s daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) has migrated from pot smoking in junior high school to an addiction to heroin.
The second story intertwined in this drama takes place below the border in Tijuana. This is a world where the chances of the police surviving the war on drugs are like those of the first to land on the beaches during D-Day. A policeman there is paid next to nothing, has to buy his own uniform and bullets, and lives in squalor only miles from the opulence of San Diego. From the generals in the army to fellow officers on the street, the temptation to take money from the Tijuana drug cartels is overwhelming.
Against all odds, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) are police officers who try to walk the ethical and moral paths they are sworn to maintain. They make sacrifices every day that most of us in our comfortable surroundings would never be willing to make. While we may all decry the drug trade feeding on our community, who among us is willing to personally make this sacrifice to stem the tide on the front line?
The third intertwined story takes us into the world of the drug cartels. Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) is on trial in San Diego for controlling and shipping drugs across the border. His wife, Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is willing to say or do anything to protect their privileged way of life.
Each of these stories touch one another and there are no happy endings. With a sense of realism that is haunting, one could be sickened, frightened or drawn to anger by the demonic impact that drugs have inflicted upon our culture.
And yet, the sacrificial choices that are made by those trying to do the right thing are what give this film its redeeming quality. When Robert Wakefield resigns from his prestigious position as America’s drug czar to learn to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, therein lies the message. Restoration may only come through sacrificially loving each other one life at a time.