Traffic (2000)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Stephen Gaghan, based on the original BBC miniseries by Simon Moore
Starring Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio del Toro, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid

My Advice: Matinee.

The macrocosm of worldwide drug trafficking condensed into the microcosm of a theatrical release film. A judge (Douglas) gets appointed to be the new U.S. drug czar, only to learn that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is addicted to the very stuff her dad now is in charge of stopping. The wife (Zeta-Jones) of a businessman (Steven Bauer) learns that her husband's real business was trafficking drugs into the U.S.--after he's been arrested, leaving her and her family in dire straits. A Mexican cop (del Toro) has to fight the system and his own ethics when dealing with the drug trade.

My primary beef with this film was it was so long and drawn out. It had a very powerful message, and dealt it the way my favorite "message films" have done. They say, "Here's the scenario--now here is it from every angle. You figure out what to think." The problem with this film is that it takes forever to get to where it's going. Granted, when it finally gets there, it's a hell of a bomb to drop.

The cast all does well in their respective roles, Douglas especially among the lead three. Don Cheadle is excellent as always, but you have to wonder how many more times he can play the government agent. The one thing that I don't get, honestly, is the hullaballoo about del Toro's performance. He's an excellent actor, make no mistake, but I didn't see anything about this go-round to rank in his top three roles, much less get him a Best Supporting statue. But like most times, I'm apparently in the minority on that one. Also of note is Topher Grace, whose character Seth gets one of the two most insightful commentaries in the movie. I won't even give you a clue. You'll recognize it when it smacks you right on the schnoz.

Also a bit disappointing is the color filters that Soderbergh uses to divide up his three storylines. A lot of people found this very artistic and esthetically pleasing--me, I just figured it was for those dolts who can't keep up with intertwining plotlines. But you know, I'm a cynic like that.

All of that being said, I would recommend the British original version, Traffik over this one in a heartbeat. With that, perhaps you will be as amazed as I that a mini-series over five hours in length can seem a lot shorter than a two-and-a-half hour film. And also that you can transition across whole continents and yet never touch a color filter.

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