Traffic (2000)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 12-Sep-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Canyon
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 141:03 (Case: 124)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (88:12) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Steven Soderbergh

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Don Cheadle
Benicio Del Toro
Michael Douglas
Luis Guzman
Dennis Quaid
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Cliff Martinez

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Traffic was one of the most acclaimed films of 2000, winning several major awards including four Oscars.In something of a rarity, Steven Soderbergh was nominated for the Best Director Oscar at this year's ceremony for this film and also the equally good Erin Brockovich. Having twice as much chance as the others in the field, he was a good bet to win. Win he did, picking up the gong for Traffic - and deservedly so I must say. This is a rich, complex, yet effortlessly communicated tale about the international drug trade and its effect on people along all links of the chain. Its strength lies in its editing (for which it also won an Oscar) and its superb direction. Filmed in a variety of styles, with a sometimes documentary feel to many of the scenes it is based on the story told in the 1989 mini-series Traffik made in the United Kingdom.

    Told as three separate, yet intrinsically linked storylines, with each one looking at the drug trade from a different perspective, it features a fine and very large cast (there are over 100 speaking roles). The separate threads don't really converge or 'fall into place' at the end of the film like many other films of this type, rather they touch each other briefly throughout before diverging again. This is really all about showing the wide-ranging effects that drugs have on many people from different cultures in different countries, and different classes of people within the same country, and the hopelessness of the battle against it. We see the drug cartels in Tijuana, Mexico and the efforts by two authorities to bring them undone. Firstly we meet  Javier Rodriquez (Benicio Del Toro, in his Best Supporting Actor role), a police officer trying to do the right thing despite widespread corruption and a totally outnumbered and out-funded police force. Secondly, Tomas Milian plays General Salazar, a high ranking military official charged with bringing the major Mexican cartels to their knees. The second storyline revolves around two DEA agents tracking a large drug distributor in San Diego. The two agents, Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) bust a crack runner, Eduardo Ruiz  (Miguel Ferrer), who is then set to testify at the trial of recently arrested drug baron Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer). Ayala's wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has no idea what her husband's real business is, but soon learns the truth with devastating consequences. The third and primarily driving plot line follows respected Judge, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) and his appointment as the head of the government drug fighting agency - the new drug 'Czar' is what he is dubbed. Wakefield has grand plans to fight the drug 'war' on many fronts and sets about learning all he can about his new responsibility. The underlying sub-plot in this storyline is a crisis in his own family as he learns that his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) has a problem with cocaine addiction.

    If all this sounds confusing, well think again. It is told in eloquent style, and treats the audience as intelligent viewers, not trying to oversimplify what could be confusing plots. The use of different film techniques and filters for the three storylines allows the viewer to easily swap between them without feeling lost. Interestingly, the DVD is broken into 68 chapters (the most I have come across). Each chapter change is a change of storyline, so by following along with the chapter list on the inside of the packaging you are easily able to keep abreast of things.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    For a film that uses several different visual styles as devices to separate the storylines, we get a magnificent transfer that is consistent across the styles. There is some noticeable differences in the Mexican scenes in relation to grain and contrast but this is obviously the intention of the director.

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 it is also enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

    Sharpness is spot-on with no traces of edge enhancement. Shadow detail is also exemplary with deep solid blacks and no loss of detail in the few darker scenes that are present. There is only minor grain which is most apparent during the Mexican scenes where the film was overexposed and given a raw and grittier feel. There is no low level noise.

   Colours play a major and very important role in this film as a device used to indicate the different storylines. The Mexican scenes are shot with high contrast and a yellow tint, providing a raw, gritty, dirty, and hot feel to them. These are displayed superbly with no oversaturation or bleeding problems. The DEA drug bust scenes are shot with a more conventional colour palette and these are also well-rendered. The scenes following Michael Douglas' character Wakefield and his daughter are shown with a blue tint. These provide a cold, sterile feel to the 'white collar' side of the drug problem.

    No MPEG artefacts were noticed and film-to-video artefacts were limited to two very minor instances. I noticed very minor aliasing on the judge's bench at 5:58 and a moire effect on a wire fence at 110:37. Film artefacts were limited to the usual handful of flecks and spots, most noticeable in the high contrast Mexican scenes. None of these are overly obtrusive.

    Only one set of subtitles are present, these being English for the Hearing Impaired (the sort that place the caption over the person that is talking). They appeared to be quite accurate. The scenes shot in Mexico feature mostly Spanish dialogue. The English subtitles (not hearing impaired) are permanently on during these scenes.

    Traffic is presented on a single-sided, dual-layered disc with RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs at 88:12 at the end of a scene with Catherine Zeta-Jones' character pausing quite noticeably in a close-up, making this merely an average layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Traffic has been given quite an amazing soundtrack given the fact that much of it comes through the centre speaker. Don't be dissuaded by this, as the way it has been executed certainly complements the vision in a very special way.

    We only get one soundtrack on this disc, that being a very fine 448 Kb/s English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort that is quite unlike anything I have experienced before.

    Dialogue is very focused on the centre channel. The dialogue is highly prominent at all times in the soundstage with most of the ambient background sounds also emanating from the centre channel. It is this prominence of the dialogue and the centre channel use that lends the documentary feel to the film. The other speakers are used for the score which is credited to Cliff Martinez. It is a score that you instantly notice since it dominates the left/right speakers. It is highly effective at times especially during the scenes where Wakefield is searching for his daughter through the streets.

    There is only minimal surround channel use.

    For a film that has few explosions or many of the other crash-boom-bang type of effects, Traffic has some of the best subwoofer use I have experienced for a while. Generally used to support the score, it comes into its own during the scenes where Robert Wakefield is searching for his daughter (92:10-92:35) where it is used to provide a deep throb that sounds much like a heartbeat.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    The main theme on a static 16x9 enhanced menu showing the main cast.

Dolby Digital Trailer-Canyon

Theatrical Trailer

    A trailer that doesn't give much away about the style of film that you are likely to be viewing. In fact, a friend of mine mentioned that he thought the trailer promised more of an action type of film than was delivered which disappointed him slightly. Presented full frame it is obviously not 16x9 enhanced, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. It runs for 2:20 minutes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Seems we get short-changed this time around. The Region 1 offering comes with an additional soundtrack and a few extras as well.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 disc misses out on;

    Ours is certainly a bare-bones effort. I'm tempted to favour the Region 1 disc, but I really don't feel that the extras would justify the extra price and NTSC quality. I'll concede a draw on this.


    I really didn't know what to expect when I started to watch Traffic for the first time. I had heard it contained separate storylines and figured I would need to watch closely in case I lost the plot and then couldn't claim I was intelligent enough to understand it. My concern was short-lived, as this is an eloquently related story that doesn't resort to cheap thrills to maintain interest and uses smart production techniques to keep the storylines separated. It highlights the wide-reaching and near-impossible effort to curb the drug problem worldwide without taking a moralistic sermon approach. Perhaps the defining moment is when the 'Drug Czar' Robert Wakefield gets his staff to think outside the box and come up with some solutions to the drug problem. He states 'the dam is open for new ideas'...the response - complete silence...

    The video and audio are superb. The audio in particular is highly original.

    The extras are virtually non-existent but this is still a must-see film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Saturday, September 08, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 1200, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Dean B
DVD Plaza - Anthony C (read my bio)
DVDownUnder - Paul J

Comments (Add)
Traffic 2-Disc Criterion Version - Ben H (My biography. Go on have a read...)
traffic transfer shambles! - ausie boy felix REPLY POSTED