Traffic, for all intents and purposes, is what Crash (winner, 2005) should and could have been if Crash wasn’t a misanthropic and clear and utter disaster.
It’s quite a laugh the timeline of events in that last sequence. Crash had before it five years’ worth of knowledge from a critical and stylistic standpoint from the point-of-view of Traffic and its offerings, which are plenty. And the team behind Crash still managed to offer a too-long and pedantic tale of race and relations that somehow managed to trick The Academy to offer its top prize. Crash fails, in a broad stroke, in the banal presentation of its message; it tells instead of shows. It does instead of is.
Traffic, in a word, is anticlimactic. Where Crash throws the “point” in your face, Traffic is mostly back story and denouement. Where Crash tries to push a message, Traffic is deliberately restrained. There are three main story-lines: Michael Douglas’ Robert Wakefield, a conservative judge appointed to head the “war on drugs,” which he approaches in truly a bullish fashion until he discovers that his own daughter (Erika Christensen) is one of the many players in this fight against futility.
As a character, Wakefield is an open and reserved man wanting to understand the nature of his problem, while approaching it with an open mind. We follow him as a man from ruralish Ohio entering the sharp incisors of the Mexican/American drug trade. He questions the demand to the usual supply. More importantly, he questions his motives and ideals when he finds that his daughter is a victim of the cycle. He is no ideologue: a fountain through which many a film auteur has decided to spout “wisdom.” He is, however, an idealist, and in a brilliant piece of screenwriting, more value exists in that one sentence that isn’t said than what is and you, as the audience, can soak in the message. There’s no pandering here. Continue reading