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Best Picture? Probably not. Worth seeing?Definitely.
"Traffic" opens in a very humble fashion: gone areeye-candy and computer-generated intros, amazing musical scores and panoramicfirst scenes. Instead, we get opening credits in white text on a no-frills blackbackground, and the first shot is through grainy and yellow-tinted video stock ina dusty, unforgiving Mexican desert.
What follows in the initial scene ischaotic; the characters are hard to keep track of and there isn't a clear way todistinguish the good guys from the bad. It may have just been a way to hook theaudience (that's what I initially thought), but the whole movie follows thistrend.
"Traffic" never says too much, never makes for an easyexperience to watch and never holds the viewer's hand but, in the end, it's thisdoctrine that makes the film so great. Make no mistake about it:"Traffic" is not set up to be a clean-cut Hollywood film, and in manyways it even looks like a documentary with soap-opera style elements. It's aserious flick that doesn't promise to be amusing or delightful, but is powerfullycaptivating.
The focus of the movie is the drug trade, and is followedthrough three different, but often interwoven, story lines. First is the tale ofJavier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro), a Mexican drug-trafficking cop. He and hispartner, Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas), whose scenes are always shot in yellow,are caught in the middle of corrupt Army officers, drug czars and American DEAagents in a whirlpool of scandal and deceit.
Second is Robert Wakefield(Michael Douglas), an Ohio judge newly appointed as the United States' mainanti-drug officer. Unbeknownst to him, the drug trade he's policing is not onlytaking place across the border but also in his own household, as his daughterCaroline (Erika Christensen) is going through a harrowing period of drugaddiction.
Third is the story of San Diego socialite Helena Ayala(Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose life is starting a downward spiral after herhusband - a successful businessman by day, drug czar by night - is arrested fordrug-trafficking. His arrest comes from the efforts of two DEA agents, MontelGorden (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman), to convince arrestedtrafficker Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer) to snitch on his former boss.
Thestrength of the movie is its ability to turn these three plots into one massiveand engaging overview of the drug war. Although convergences in terms of screentime are relatively small, the effect of certain things, even those that seeminsignificant at first, can echo from one story line to another, creating a veryrealistic connection among all aspects of the drug trade. The film tries tocreate a microcosm of the war on drugs in two and a half hours, and in many ways- perhaps as much as is possible - succeeds.
The scenes fit together sosnugly because the directorial work of Steven Soderbergh is excellent throughout.Even as the scenes alternate between Spanish and English, from the yellow tint ofMexico to the bluish tone of Ohio, and from bumpy, hand-held camera-shot carrides to wide, sweeping shots, it's all tied together with a steady depictionfocused on telling a solid story based on rock-hard reality.
There are noclean-cut heroes here, as characters act with authenticity instead of morality.People die at the most inopportune moments (as most do in real life) and, unlikemost Hollywood productions, there are real mysteries as circumstances causepersonalities and motives to evolve without warning.
Strong performancesabound, and though screen time for any given actor is relatively short due to theinterwoven plots, every player gets at least one good scene. Michael Douglas iswonderful as the concerned and angst-ridden parent of a crazed drug addict;Benicio Del Toro shines as the struggling conscience in a bleak Mexican society;and Catherine Zeta-Jones is praiseworthy for her strong emotional performance.(She was pregnant at the time, so the sexual overtones usually present in hermovies are reduced, creating more focus on her acting skills.) Don Cheadle andLuiz Guzman are great as DEA agents and provide some of the rare humorous momentsin a very serious film. Erika Christensen, however, really steals the show in anextraordinary performance as a drug addict. She's got a bright futureonscreen.
"Traffic" is not your usual Hollywood flick - thefeel-good ending is absent and the plot is more of an overview than a strict flowof events - but it still manages to be very good. It's a humanizing film that'smore powerful than the best romantic duo, the most fantastic action scene or themost revolutionary special effects because it reveals a side of our society thatis more complex, more profound and more forceful than anything we've seen before.Hopefully, this film will help open our eyes.
This movie is ratedR. All those under 17 must be accompanied by an adult.