Thursday, May 3, 2012

954. TRAFFIC (2000)

Running Time: 147 minutes
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Stephen Gaghan, from miniseries Traffik by Simon Moore
Main Cast: Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro, Catherine Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle, Erika Christensen
Click here to view the trailer


 Two nights ago, I took a look at Soderbergh's debut feature, "Sex, Lies, and Videotape"; tonight I take a look at the movie that earned him his first and only Academy Award for Best Director - "Traffic".

The film follows several different plots, utilizing an all-star cast and interconnected plot lines to tell it's story of drug trafficking. We start out in Tijuana, Mexico where Javier Rodriguez (del Toro), a member of the state police, is fighting the drug problem in his own, underhanded way, accompanied by his partner, Manolo (Jacob Vargas). Later, Rodriguez falls in with some bad company, in the form of General Salazar, a Mexican authority of high rank. In Washington, D.C., Robert Wakefield (Douglas) is taking a new position as head of the Office of National Drug Control, where he'll lead the fight in the "war on drugs". However, Wakefield may not be prepared for the new position, as he can't even tackle the drug problem in his own home, in Cincinnati, where his teenage daughter, Caroline (Christensen) is addicted to cocaine and various other substances. Meanwhile, in a San Diego suburb, a housewife, Helena (Zeta Jones) copes with the arrest of her husband, a big time drug smuggler, who is heading to trial. Helena is also an expectant mother and is harassed on a daily basis by drug lords who are owed money by her jailed husband. The San Diego story also follows two DEA agents, Montel (Cheadle) and Ray (Luis Guzman), as they nab Carlos Ayala, another big time drug lord and put him under witness protection until he can testify against Helena's husband.

On paper, "Traffic" looks like a home run. An all-star cast consisting of a total of 130 actors and actresses honing their craft, 110 locations, filming with handheld cameras, using original editing techniques (different color hues on the lens to separate the varying story arcs). All this done to tell a powerful story and using three different plot lines and a documentary style to really hammer home the full effects that drug trafficking has on the public.  But, in the end, "Traffic" just wasn't the film for me. I think "Traffic" reminded me why I don't take politics and real life events, like drug trafficking, with my movies. Because when you start to tie in things of this nature, movies stop becoming an escape and start becoming a reminder. There's that classic scene in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" where Cecilia goes to the movies, after having her heart broken and the film ends with her smiling, because the film provided for her an escape from the perils of day to day life. "Traffic" and other movies that implement politics and our troubled world into their plots, don't allow us to escape, but more resemble a CNN program. I'm not saying it's ALWAYS bad to implement real world issues into your plot, I'm just saying that "Traffic" did it in such a realistic way that it turned me off - perhaps that's a credit to the picture.

I didn't like much about "Traffic", so to highlight the positives would be very difficult. I did like the Erika Christensen storyline, or at least, it was the most interesting storyline to me. Of course, it wasn't all that original - teenage girl gets hooked on drugs, daddy swoops into try and help - perhaps one of the most overused plot lines in modern cinema and television. None of the actors really struck me as standout. The book makes note of Catherine Zeta Jones' performance and how it's probably her best. I, on the other hand, realized what a overrated actress she is when I watched this. I'll even go bolder and say the same thing for Michael Douglas. He just did not impress me here and when I thought about it, he has never really impressed me in anything he's done. I'll give some props to Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, they did fine jobs, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that the latter deserved an Academy Award for his skills. As far as the editing and camerawork are concerned, I'll give credit there too, as the film did use some imaginative to heighten their story, but when the story isn't up your alley, it really doesn't matter if they have pink dolphins dancing in all four corners of the screen, nothing's going to wow you. Let's just suffice it to say that I've had better times at the movies than the time I had with "Traffic".

RATING: 3.5/10  Perhaps the worst film I've watched this 100 so far. However, that's not really saying much, because I haven't seen too many stinkers yet, during this batch.


May 3, 2012  8:54pm

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