In March, director Steven Soderbergh presented the surprisingly excellent drama comedy Erin Brockovich, which has high hopes for Oscar gold in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress categories. Who knew that in the same year Soderbergh would release a second drama that has even better chances for earning awards.
The movie is Traffic, a brilliantly directed and well crafted film starring an ensemble cast, namely Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, and Don Cheadle.
From minute one you know that this is going to be a different kind of movie. The picture is yellow and grainy, just like an old home video. We are introduced to Benicio Del Toro's character, a Mexican State Policeman, who is waiting in the middle of nowhere. A short time later a plane passes overhead, obviously landed. Another minute passes and a truck comes along; there are drugs in the back. But before Del Toro can take the men back to the city, the military comes along and confiscates the drugs, and the men.
Elsewhere, Michael Douglas, a judge that is going to become the new drug czar, prepares for what is going to be the fight of his life. Back in his home city, a young, sixteen year old girl shoots up on crack, and then begins to make out with her boyfriend. This is Douglas's daughter.
Don Cheadle, a DEA agent, goes undercover and attempts to bring a drug dealer out into the open. Before that happens, the police mess things up and a shootout occurs.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, a woman six months pregnant and already having one son, watches as her husband is carried away by DEA Agents - it turns out that he's a drug dealer.
Traffic has begun and is a long way from over. Each one of these stories unfold, linked to each other through a matter of circumstances but at the same time follow their own paths, the characters barely crossing paths. Married couple Zeta-Jones and Douglas, who both have major parts in the film, do not share a single second of screen time. Del Toro, who gets caught up with the DEA, never sees Don Cheadle. And this probably is the way that the war on drugs goes on, where you don't know and never see your enemies or allies.
The most noticeable part about the film is the grainy and shaky format of the film. Mexico is especially presented in a different light, literally, and the effect is all for the better. The United States is shown in a much clearer, colorful form, but the camera still bounces around as if it were an episode of "COPS." Soderbergh has had two excellent films come out of 2000 and they don't at all look similar. Traffic has its own look and it is all for the better; I was drawn in from minute one because of the look of the film.
The content helps, too. The script is flawless, the acting is flawless, and the plot is nearly flawless. Benicio Del Toro, who is the real star of the show and who will hopefully garner an Oscar nomination for this film, breezes through the movie as if he is the Mexican policeman. Douglas once again brings his commanding performance to the screen, both as a powerful figure in the media and as a caring father who wants to help his daughter. Zeta-Jones makes up for her horrid performance in Entrapment with a very serious and emotional role of the wife of a drug dealer. Don Cheadle once again amazes me. Even though he's not the biggest actor in the world he is slowly sneaking up through the cracks, and this movie has to help show his talent.
The only time when Traffic seems to shake is the ending. While it does end with a glimpse of hope, the movie seems inconclusive. It wraps up quickly without completely tying together all the storylines, and leaves the audience hanging. As impressive as the ending is, the audience has to be taken into consideration - the audience wants something, and they should get something.
Nevertheless, Traffic is an excellent movie. From the directing to the acting, the movie sparkles even in the dullest of lights. It's one of the best movies of 2000.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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