Traffic is a 2000 American crime drama film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Stephen Gaghan. It explores the illegal drug trade from a number of perspectives: a user, an enforcer, a politician and a trafficker. Their stories are edited together throughout the film, although some of the characters do not meet each other. The film is an adaptation of the British Channel 4 television series Traffik.
A patchwork of stories about various factions of the drug trade, including dealers, abusers and the law enforcement officials who pursue them. Mexican policeman Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) works on and around the border with his close friend and fellow policeman Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas), under Mexico's number one crime fighter, General Salazar. Confronted with temptations of power and money, Javier resists them but finds himself—and Manolo—caught in a web of corruption that leads to an untenable situation. Back in the U.S., Ohio State Supreme Court Justice Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is named by the president as the new antidrug czar. Collecting information, the uncompromising and conservative Wakefield prepares to supervise the country's task forces and partner them with Mexico's. But, at home, he and his wife Barbara must deal with their increasingly drug-addicted teenage daughter Caroline. In San Diego, undercover DEA agents Montel Gordon and Ray Castro work overtime to help the U.S. government build its case against the infamous Obregon drug cartel. Their bust of midlevel drug trafficker Eduardo Ruiz pays off when their new prisoner cuts a deal to testify against wealthy drug baron Carlos Ayala, who lives in the upscale suburbs. Carlos is arrested, shocking his unknowing and pregnant wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Helena and her son are quickly threatened by her husband's associates and tailed by the DEA agents. Enlisting the aid of attorney Arnie Metzger. Helena vows to get Carlos out of jail and keep her children safe—even if it means taking over her husband's business.
20th Century Fox, the original financiers of the film, demanded Harrison Ford play a leading role and that significant changes to the screenplay be made. Soderbergh refused and proposed the script to other major Hollywood studios, but it was rejected because of the three-hour running time and the subject matter. USA Films, however, liked the project from the start and offered the film-makers more money than Fox. Soderbergh operated the camera himself and adopted a distinctive cinematography tint for each story so that audiences could tell them apart.
The film was also a commercial success with a worldwide total of $207.5 million, well above its estimated $46 million budget.
In addition to strong box office receipts, Traffic was acclaimed by critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 92% of critics gave the film positive write-ups, based on a sample of 154, with an average score of 8/10.Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "The movie is powerful precisely because it doesn't preach. It is so restrained that at one moment—the judge's final speech—I wanted one more sentence, making a point, but the movie lets us supply that thought for ourselves".
The film won Academy Awards for Best Director (Soderbergh), Best Supporting Actor (Del Toro), Best Film Editing (Mirrione), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Gaghan). It was also nominated for Best Picture, alongside another Soderbergh film, Erin Brockovich, but lost to Gladiator.