I must first confess that I myself do not know much about things like cinematography, direction or even that practice of the author's art known as screenwriting. So I'm not pretending here to sound off on the artistic merits of this particular film.
But what I believe is this movie's truly finest quality is its timeliness. Usually, in the business of film-making, much like that of war, studio executives, like their military counterparts -- generals - are always filming and/or fighting the last conflict.
The best war pictures and/or books -- always seem to have to put a few years between themselves and the events they depict. It always seems to take time for authors and screenwriters to get around to the heart of their subject. The ''Thin Red Line,'' ''All Quiet on The Western Front,'' ''Farewell to Arms,'' ''For Whom the Bell Tolls,'' ''Platoon'' and even ''Saving Private Ryan'' always seem to come a bit late for the human beings who have the most to learn from their stories. But such doesn't seem to be the case with ''Traffic.'' In fact, the movie might be the first screen depiction of a war, in this case the so-called war on drugs, that opens up the gory subject while the blood is still being spilled.
With ''Traffic,'' the viewer is hit squarely between the eyes with the realization of the utter farce and futility of a life and death struggle we lost years ago and only continue because nobody in a position of responsibility seems to have the courage to be the first to admit defeat. We spend hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars every single year combating a human frailty and, oddly enough, one of the economic pillars of this society of ours -- capitalism.
As long as there is a demand for drugs in this nation, there will be those who will step forward, in the finest tradition of American capitalism to supply that demand. Hell, the self-made entrepreneurs who sally forth on street corners across this nation with packets of opium dreams, are perhaps the finest example of the capitalist spirit alive today. Here we have a group of individuals who have discovered a market willing to pay anything for the product and have simply done what Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan and Gould did before them -- filled it. We have taken a dirt cheap crop which grows like weeds in some spots on this globe and turned it into gold. We live in a world that complains about paying $30-per-barrel for irreplaceable oil, but by virtue of the might of our legal system have turned an inexhaustible class of vegetation into a name-your-own-price commodity.
Throughout the 1920s in this land we tried, through a very similar misguided attempt at regulating human kinds penchant for self-medication, to eradicate the use of alcohol. We failed miserably and only succeeded in turning a goodly portion of the population into felons and giving organized crime a stranglehold on much of the nation's commerce. So, just what did we learn from that debacle? Absolutely nothing according to the creators of ''Traffic.'' Hundreds of thousands of people die in this country each and every year as a result of tobacco. We spend nobody knows how many hundreds of millions trying to deal with the debilitating affects of those who don't die outright from this highly addictive substance, but not a single voice is raised in favor of regulating nicotine like we try to the so-called harder drugs. No one would dare put forth such a plan because the millions of Americans who continue to foul their lungs with this substance would simply indulge in an underground economic arrangement much like the multi billion dollar sub-system we've created for hard drugs. And nobody would really try and tell us that alcohol, which accounts for most of the highway deaths in this land each year, not to mention imprisons millions more in an addictive downward spiral, should be outlawed. There are certainly many times more alcoholics roaming the streets of America than there are hard core drug addicts. But the small percentage of narcotics users among us have practically brought our criminal justice system to a standstill.
The money generated by the drug trade magnifies itself many times over in the form of corruption that is tainting our entire way of life. The movie brilliantly shows that the American drug trade has already virtually destroyed law enforcement in Mexico, where the endless profits have corrupted the entire structure of the justice system in that nation. The motion picture makes us look at the drug traffic in all its myriad of guises, from the $320-a-month Mexican cop who has the impossible task of trying to stop a billion-dollar-a-month juggernaut south of the border, to the 16-year-old suburban Cincinnati princess whose life has become a constant effort to get and stay high.
And in between, there is a mid-level dealer caught in a sting who turns in the big fish in the multi-million-dollar mansion in an upscale suburb of San Diego, and who is snuffed for being a stool pigeon. But the one really enduring theme that runs throughout, is the fact that there are no real bad guys or good guys, even though there are some reprehensible acts perpetrated by amoral individuals, and that no matter how many tons of this stuff is stopped, confiscated or simply squandered, there will always be many times that amount still in the pipeline. And all our billions spent on this war only makes the succeeding batches cheaper and more addictive.
Because, unlike the oil sheik, who has a finite commodity to barter, the drug lord's supply is infinite and his consumers are always in need of a fix.
There seems to be one more message that comes from this two hours-plus of celluloid; the only law the drug cartels and all their as sundry minions can't and will never break, is the law of supply and demand.