Monday, May 5, 2008

My Favorite Scene: Traffic

Warning: Critical plot details will be divulged in this post. The ending will be spoiled.

Watching Steven Soderbergh’s drug-epic masterpiece is like punching a clock. When you sit down and watch, you are in for the long run; for two and half hours, you cannot take your eyes off the screen. Dedicating your time to the film’s convoluted, unique story, is like fighting 10 rounds with a raging bull, it knocks you right out.

Picking a favorite scene from one of the best films of this century isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible without explaining a few others.

Of the three stories in the film, Benico Del Toro’s conscience-riddled police officer, Javier Rodriguez, is the most emotionally severe. Just watching Del Toro’s face, clenched and bent into confounding complexity is reason enough to earn him the Oscar he won for his performance.

It’s no surprise that the film’s most inspiring scene is carried out with him.

The DEA has set up a meeting with Del Toro to talk about his new boss, drug kingpin General Salazar. While Del Toro sits in the back of a car in a vacant parking garage, he panics, not feeling safe, not knowing where the two agents are taking him to “talk”. The officers plead with him, “Where do you want to go, Javier!?” We instantly cut to a swimming pool, Del Toro and the two cops are neck deep in water, kids splashing all around them.

When money is discussed in exchange for information Del Toro may have, Del Toro simply asks the men, “Do you like baseball?” Confused, they say nothing. He goes on to tell them that the baseball fields in his town need lights, so the kids can play at night, so it is safe. “This is what I am talking about, my friends,” he says as he gracefully swims away.
The issue isn’t discussed for the rest of the film, and we almost forget it ever happened. But much later, after several cataclysmic events have occurred, including Del Toro’s partner being murdered, and Del Toro ratting out Salazar, we are offered a stunningly poignant scene in American film.The last scene of the film shows kids playing on a baseball field, at night, under the blanket of brand new lights. As the kids play their game we cut to Del Toro, sitting in the middle of the crowd, a modest smile on his face. A ball is cracked and the crowd cheers, Del Toro smoothly clapping his hands along with them. He brings his hands up to his face, putting them together, almost in prayer. This is his doing, his gift, his life.

Scored by Brian Eno’s hauntingly passionate “An Ending (Ascent)”, the scene proves that simplicity can stretch higher than the furthest desires of the imagination. The credits start, but we stay on the game. The scene is, quite simply, one of the most inspiring and heartfelt sequences that I have seen captured in film. After devoting so much time, this is our big, emotional payoff. Kids playing safely, under the warm glow of the lights.


  1. Definitely a great ending! Almost every movie I watch, there is a moment when I whisper, "Okay, that's it, end it right there." As a litmus test of which movies are great and which suck balls, it's pretty accurate.

    I know that many (most? all?) would point to Sex, Lies, and Videotape, but I think Traffic is Soderbergh's masterpiece. He's done other things I've liked (even loved - The Limey, anyone?), but this was a complete package of direction, cinematography, writing, and acting.

    One scene that always hits my mind is Cheadle and Guzman's characters talking in the surveillance van, sharing their dreams of busting the guys at the top of the drug supply chain. Another director wouldn't have that scene. It doesn't advance the plot, but I think it gives a critical view of their relationship. Those are the scenes that good movies have.

    1. Nice! I too have that moment of wanting a great movie to end RIGHT there. (Isn't it so sad when it doesn't though?)

      Anyway, so glad to hear your a Soderbergh and Traffic fan. Traffic is one of my Top 10 favorite films of all time, so I'll definitely call it Soderbergh's masterpiece (I love The Limey as well!).

      That scene you mentioned is fantastic, love that moment. I love character developing scenes like that.