Common Sense Media Says: Pause for kids 16 & under

Tons of drug use, violence, and depressing stories.


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.

Consumerism:Not applicable


Drinking, drugs, & smoking:Many scenes of people transporting, attempting to steal, and doing various drugs. Characters onscreen snort cocaine, smoke marijuana, smoke and shoot heroin. We see heroin users cook their drugs in a spoon and then inject them, graphically. A visibly pregnant woman is almost forced to do cocaine under pain of death.


Language:Dozens of uses of "f--k" and "s--t," in Spanish and English.


Positive role models:Though many of the main characters in Traffic are ruthless and amoral, two DEA agents uphold the law passionately. The cast boasts very good racial and ethnic diversity, with many main characters of color.


Sex:Very explicit situations, including an underage girl who prostitutes herself for drugs, we see a man thrusting forcefully on top of her as we see him nude from the rear in a sleazy hotel room. Teens discuss having sex and doing heroin as they climax together.


Violence:Many, many scenes of violence, including gory point-blank shootings of characters we've grown to know, hideous and extended torture scenes (most of the blows occur offscreen), a car explosion, a young character has a seizure and stops breathing, a pregnant woman is threatened if she won't do cocaine, a man threatens to murder a young boy, and so on.



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 help keep them straight. 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.