Traffic Spins Gripping Tales of the Drug Wars 

  Traffic Spins Gripping Tales of the Drug Wars 

Posted by FoM on December 29, 2000 at 16:40:34 PT
By David Sterritt, Staff Writer of The CSM  
Source: Christian Science Monitor 

Steven Soderbergh has already graced the year with "Erin Brockovich," the most politically alert crowd-pleaser in recent memory. Now he's back with Traffic, a more abrasive commentary on ills of contemporary life. The new picture will probably draw smaller audiences, but may figure even more prominently in the upcoming Academy Awards race, given its impressive ensemble cast and the imaginative visual style it uses to explore its complex subject from a variety of perspectives. 
That subject is drugs - or more precisely, the so-called war on drugs that the United States government has been waging for many a long and controversial year. Although its highly dramatic screenplay is based on a British television series, "Traffic" amounts to a 140-minute commentary on American efforts to stem the tide of illicit drugs through a wide assortment of varyingly effective means, from infiltration of the narcotics underworld to treatment of drug-dependent individuals. This doesn't mean "Traffic" is an exercise in punditry. Quite the opposite, it's one of the year's most suspenseful, gripping, and sometimes disturbing films. It begins near the Mexican border, where a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) and his close partner (Jacob Vargas) are working under a military commander (Tomas Milian) whose methods are as ruthless as the enemy he wants to conquer. The action soon switches to the United States, where a Midwestern judge (Michael Douglas) has been chosen as federal drug czar - a job he's proud to take, even though it consumes so much time that it hampers his ability to stay close with family members, one of whom (Erika Christensen) is a teenager with a hankering for narcotics. On the West Coast, meanwhile, two officers on the drug beat (Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle) monitor the life of a wealthy woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose incarcerated husband (Steven Bauer) has become a pawn in a set of dangerous intrigues. These are only some of the characters in Soderbergh's web of plots and subplots, which run on parallel but interrelated tracks throughout the movie. Some are more compelling than others, and portions of the action seem a bit confused, as if a too-long running time had caused necessary story material to remain on the cutting-room floor. Sentimentality creeps in a little, as well. But the tension rarely lets up, and the film's thoughtfulness is a welcome relief from the season's general run of fluff and fantasy. And then there's the acting, much of which ranks with the best we've seen all year. Soderbergh has a gift for eliciting strong performances - he launched his career with "Sex, Lies & Videotape," a starmaking vehicle if ever there was one - and he hasn't lost his touch. Douglas gives one of his most crisply etched portrayals, Miguel Ferrer and Amy Irving do first-rate work, and Del Toro reconfirms his growing reputation as one of today's most talented actors. Another director drawn to ambitious subjects is Michael Winterbottom, who has explored geopolitical conflict in "Welcome to Sarajevo" and British social problems in "Wonderland," among other projects. Five years after his "Jude" brought a Thomas Hardy tale ("Jude the Obscure") to the screen with uneven results, he returns to Hardy territory with The Claim, transporting the English author's 1886 novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge" to the American frontier in the 19th century. Hardy's engrossing book centers on a self-made man whose privileged existence masks two secrets. One is a sordid episode in his past. The other is an unstable personality that threatens to reemerge when life and love stop going entirely his way, which happens when his protégé turns into a rival. Like a number of Hardy's novels, the story takes place in the fictional county of Wessex, and it's not entirely clear why Winterbottom has moved it to California in 1869, changing its wealthy grain merchant to a gold-rush tycoon and its young Scottish upstart to a railroad surveyor. There's nothing automatically wrong with such changes - think of all the Shakespeare plays and grand operas done in modern dress, for instance - but Winterbottom's treatment seems more superficially clever than genuinely heartfelt, despite the eclectic cast he's assembled (Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski, Milla Jovovich) and the care he's taken with historical details. Whether you enjoy "The Claim" or not may depend on how you like the movie's most notable quality: its startling resemblance to Robert Altman's eccentric western "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," which shares its finely tuned cinematography, its chilly vision of the Old West, and its odd reluctance to let the characters' emotions rise to the surface. Altman is a great filmmaker, but he may be too powerful an influence for a more modest talent like Winterbottom to absorb. "The Claim" is a clone in many ways, and moviegoers may prefer to revisit the real Altman article courtesy of their local video store. "Traffic," rated R, contains violence, vulgarity, and much drug-related material. "The Claim," rated R, contains sex and violence. Note: Some of today's most interesting directors are making their mark on 2000 just before the calendar runs out. Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)Author: David Sterritt, Staff Writer of The Christian Science MonitorPublished: December 29, 2000Copyright: 2000 The Christian Science Publishing Society.Address: One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115Fax: (617) 450-2031Contact: oped csps.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Traffic Official Web Site Teeming Mural of a War Fought and Lost - Salon Magazine Review Kicks The Habit 

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Comment #7 posted by Lehder on December 30, 2000 at 03:20:03 PT
The original "Traffik" was aired on PBS about 10 or 12 years ago. I was lucky enough to happen on to it channel flipping one evening after a dull day at about the time when urine tests became mandatory where I worked, by federal law, for new hires and anyone suspected of using drugs. There were, as I recall, no gun battles, no loud hit music, no shouted macho threats and no fist fights - not a suitable show for Americans or even anti-Americans. No one discussed it at work and I have met very few who saw it. Ithink it had no effect on the drug war or people's attitude toward it at all. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much and it certainly captured a lot of the stupidity and pointlessness of the war. It showed how innocent, normal people can be drawn into the war and how, in their attempts to extricate themselves from it, are pulled in deeper and become helpless pawns of the traffickers and the law alike. The scene where the heroine is awaiting a body search athe airport ( or train station?) also had no shooting, shouting or even substantial dialogue, yet, not being an Amerikan, it made me tense and angry. The war rages on, exactly as in the movie, in the British Isles as it does in the U.S. People will watch this movie high and get busted at DWI check points their way home the same as on a night out to see Gladiator. Our Drug War is big enough to withstand a little abuse from Hollywood. It's all an accepted part of our culture. I think the movie will help prepare Amerikans to accept body cavity searches as routine.
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Comment #6 posted by JR Bob Dobbs on December 29, 2000 at 21:08:18 PT

  Everything I have read indicates to me that Traffic is a multifaceted all-out indictment of the WOD, and that there's hardly any argument for ending the war that the film doesn't work in somehow, while at the same time trying not to be preachy. This limited initial run is frustrating me, though, because I wanted to see the movie before I read everything about it. Oh well, so much for that...  Here's the IMDB's list of external reviews of Traffic:  Here's the links to the downloadable Quicktime previews:  At the movie's own site, among other things they have three lo-res Quicktime clips from the film, they're between 1 and 2 MB and run between 1 and 2 minutes..  And there's another "drug" movie coming out soon which looks somewhat intriguing, although not on the same level as Traffic. It's called Blow, and it's all about cocaine in the 1980s. It stars Johnny Depp, and you can find the preview here:  And more info at the IMDB page for Blow:
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on December 29, 2000 at 20:24:30 PT

Hi dddd
I hope you get to see it and I hope others do too. It has an interesting story line and hopefully the impact of the drug war will be seen by people who have no idea what it's all about and just want to see a good movie and come away a lot wiser. The last movie we went to see was Jurassic Park. We owned a video store and had to watch movies almost everynight to keep up with what was being released and we don't care to watch movies now. We burnt out on movies. This one though will be worth seeing!Have a safe and a Happy New Years Eve!Peace, FoM!
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on December 29, 2000 at 19:56:34 PT

not tonite
Unfortunatly,it is only being shown up in the heart of LA,which is an hours drive for me.I will be seeing it soon though.I havnt been to see a movie in years.I'm looking forward to it.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on December 29, 2000 at 19:38:12 PT:

Wall Street Journal Review
Enthralling 'Traffic' Shines High Beams On a Chaotic Drug World Source: Wall Street Journal (US)Author: Joe MorgensternPublished: December 29, 2000Copyright: 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.Contact: letter.editor wsj.comAddress: 200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281Fax: (212) 416-2658Website: "Traffic," Steven Soderbergh's tough, enthralling thriller about the drug trade, Michael Douglas, as the newly designated U.S. antidrug czar Robert Wakefield, flies off to southern California on a small government jet for a tour of the San Ysidro-Tijuana border near San Diego. During the flight, he tells his advisors, none of whom has expertise in treatment or rehabilitation: "The dam is open for new ideas." Not a drop spills over; Wakefield's earnest appeal is met with stony silence.New ideas are hard to come by in the endlessly touted war against drugs, and "Traffic" doesn't traffic in facile solutions. (Or in hope; the tacit assumption is that vast quantities of narcotics will keep flowing into the U.S. because the appetite for them will continue unabated.) But no movie has ever evoked, with such intelligence and dramatic power, the doomed campaigns and moral chaos, the base motives and high ideals of the troops in their far-flung battles.In recent years Mr. Soderbergh has become a one-man American New Wave. With or without big stars, he works in a nimble, fluent style that makes much of Hollywood's output seem even clumsier than it is. He directed a reinvigorated Julia Roberts in "Erin Brockovich," which opened early this year. He did "The Limey" as well as the scintillating "Out of Sight." "Traffic" is a triumph of this stripped-back technique; it's densely detailed but notably lucid. (Stephen Gaghan wrote the fine script, part of which was loosely adapted from "Traffik," a 1989 British miniseries.)Of the film's three interwoven story lines, Robert Wakefield's voyage of discovery and eventual dismay is the most emotionally accessible. It's also the most conventional and the least satisfying, thanks to the strenuous irony of Wakefield's situation.A conservative justice of the Ohio Supreme Court when Washington calls, and a man of unassailable integrity, he doesn't know, at least initially, that his own daughter is an addict.She's played by Erika Christensen, and the evolution of their conflict is as painful as it is predictable; Dad is almost in denial about being in denial.The other stories unfold, episodically, with the explosive -- and sometime scabrously funny -- force of life caught on the fly. Serving as his own cinematographer, Mr. Soderbergh has upped the energy level with a hand-held camera that feeds on available light, and with intentionally jarring shifts of the palette -- jaundiced yellows in Mexico, cheerless blues in Ohio. (I took the color codings to suggest corruption and frustration, but they also work as supply and demand.) In Tijuana, a pair of Mexican state cops, played by Benicio Del Toro and Jacob Vargas -- their dialogue is mostly in subtitled Spanish -- struggle with the choices they must make to function, and survive, in a drug-enforcement system that's rotting from the head and every other part of the body politic.North of the border, their approximate counterparts, a pair of undercover DEA agents played, hilariously, by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman, build a case against a midlevel trafficker (Miguel Ferrer) that pays off in startling ways.Given the subject matter and its attendant violence, "Traffic" takes a heavy toll on your psyche; this film should not be prescribed for mood elevation. Yet scores of scenes play like turbo-charged versions of real life, and they hold you in a state of rapt attention.That's a tribute both to Mr. Soderbergh's unerring way with actors and to the quality of his cast, which includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Amy Irving and Dennis Quaid. This is ensemble work from top to bottom -- not a trace of movie-star competitiveness that might compromise the production's integrity.Yet Mr. Del Toro deserves to be singled out for the understated eloquence with which he communicates the awful conflicts of a decent man plying an indecent trade.It's a stirring performance in a stunning film. 
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on December 29, 2000 at 19:36:41 PT

dddd let us know!
Hi dddd,Please give us your honest opinion of the movie. I know you will. It will be a while until it get's in our area but we do hope to get to see it.
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on December 29, 2000 at 18:48:55 PT

havnt seen it....yet
 But here are some of the unfounded suspicions of what I expect. I imagine it will portray a gripping view of the drug war,but I am expecting it will portray the cause of the drug war,and those who wage it,in a noble,and justifiable way.In other words,it will not step on too many ondcp/corporate toes. I am on my way to the theatre...........dddd
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