Movie Review #633
Studio: Bedford Fall Productions — Compulsion Inc. — Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) — Splendid Medien AG — USA Films
Distributor: USA Films
Country: USA — Germany
Spoken Languages: English — Spanish
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Produced by Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovit. Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan. Based on the TV mini-series “Traffik” by Simon Moore.
Rated R by the MPAA, for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality. Runs 2 hours, 27 minutes. Premiered in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on December 27, 2000, and at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 8, 2001. Wide release in the USA on January 5, 2001, and in Germany on April 5, 2001.
Starring Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Also starring Jacob Vargas, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Tomás Milián, Amy Irving, Erika Christensen, Topher Grace, D. W. Moffett, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Steven Bauer, Clifton Collins, Jr., Miguel Ferrer, Peter Riegert, Benjamin Bratt, and Yul Vazquez. Additionally featuring Salma Hayek in an uncredited role.
“In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas.”
Steven Soderbergh doesn’t have any distinct style, as far as this critic can tell, and his “Traffic” might best exemplify this. It features a creative approach that has rarely been taken by the most prestigious, let alone the then-up-and-comer Soderbergh. What works about the movie is that it’s a crime movie that doesn’t feel like a crime movie. Aside from some choppy Hollywood sets in Tijuana, this all looks very much homemade. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot to praise about the reality found in the title overlays. For those who have yet to upgrade to Windows 7, you could recreate the titles in Windows Movie Maker faster than you could make a ham sandwich.
“Traffic” is basically a much more sophisticated approach to any reality TV segment focusing on crime. You have your narcotics officer, your drug addict, etc., and they all get their time on camera. (Again it’s more sophisticated.) In a movie, this many characters is cataloging an epic poem, except this particular script chooses to focus on six major characters, not one. We’re introduced to them as in any other movie, but we learn a lot more of them. They’re staples to their own fables, and although these segments wrap together later on, the movie’s shifting between stories is rather comprehensive.
Each of these fables presents a completely different message, about completely different people, living in different areas. But their concern is the same thing: drugs. The account often hauntingly explores drug abuse, dealing, addiction, and of course, trafficking. We’re looking at an A-list cast, who nearly transforms into their roles. Catherine Zeta-Jones isn’t perfect, but a scene when she visits her husband in prison makes her entirely memorable. She and Benicio del Toro–who is muy bien–may be the two antiheroic exceptions to the one law the movie lays down. It operates on its characters being as respectable or deplorable as if we knew them.
Between the direction and the writing, “Traffic” already succeeds. Stephen Gaghan gives us a look at the story as if we were there. As half the movie takes place in Tijuana, Mexico, half of it is in Spanish. And as previously noted, the movie is anything but egalitarian. With “Traffic”, I shiver at the reality found in the subject matter; the movie goes into great depth.
As with anything by Steven Soderbergh, “Traffic” develops pacing errors over time, but it’s all worth getting through in the end. Soderbergh won this achievement an Oscar for a Best Directing; just three years later, it appeared in the Criterion Collection. I realize neither one is something every director expects to earn out of his or her achievement, but as far as what Steven Soderbergh has done with “Traffic”, I can’t exactly say I’m surprised.