A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that drug abuse, drug smuggling, and the United States' war on drugs are the central themes of Traffic, a movie that condemns instead of glamorizes drugs yet graphically shows scenes of users doing drugs and drug-related violence. The former is perhaps most disturbing in several scenes of teenagers having afterschool parties in their parent-less homes, smoking pot, drinking, taking pills and (eventually) smoking heroin. One teen has an overdose and stops breathing. Two young characters eventually take to shooting heroin; all of this is graphically depicted onscreen. In addition to the disturbing sexual scenes there are numerous scenes of brutal, gory violence: point-blank shootings, torture, execution-style murder, a scary guy threatens a pregnant woman with the murder of her young child, and so on. Traffic is very strong stuff and may make drugs look appealing to teens; watch with kids if they watch at all.
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What's the story?
In TRAFFIC, a hard-line judge is selected as the president's new general in the war on drugs. Front-line cops in Mexico and the US go after the small-time distributors and try to make cases against the sources of the drugs. A pampered wife, pregnant with her second child, finds out that her husband's legitimate businesses are just a front for his real import -- cocaine. And the judge's teenage daughter becomes a heroin addict.
Is it any good?
Director Steven Soderbergh ably keeps these stories on track, cutting back and forth to let them provide context and contrast for each other, and using different color palettes to distinguish them. There are also some good lines. But despite a first-rate all-star cast, the stories never connect or illuminate.
Overall, the move feels flat and a little formulaic, almost like one of those old Dragnet episodes about the dangers of drugs. The script moves the characters around like chess pieces. Packing so many stories in so little time requires a lot of narrative short-cuts like coincidences and stereotypes. The Catherine Zeta Jones character switches from innocent and doe-eyed to commanding and vicious faster than you can say "Michael Corleone." Individual scenes have some tension and some fine performances (especially by Benecio del Toro and Don Cheadle as cops), but the overall impact is muted.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about drugs, both their own views on individual drug use and the impact that the drug business has on the community and the country. Did the movie make you feel differently about the role that illegal drugs play in the lives of people around us? When the judge asks the staff for new ideas, the response is silence. What should the next person to hold the anti-drug czar job do?
What is the effect of the violence in this film? Does it underscore the film's messages or is it gratuitous?
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