is a triumph on almost every level. It is breathtakingly stylish,
wonderfully acted and its three interrelated tales of the
"war" on drugs are brilliantly structured to form
a cohesive, powerful whole.
most impressive of all is the bracingly honest way director
Steven Soderbergh presents the drug war in all its vastness
(the corruption of whole governments) and at its most intimate
(the destruction of an individual family), and depicts the
struggle as depressingly futile, but at the same time desperately
is based on a successful British miniseries of the 1980s,
but Soderbergh and screenwriter Steven Gaghan have shifted
the action from the Pakistan-to-England heroin route to the
Mexico-U.S.A. cocaine trade via California.
you meet two Mexican cops in Tijuana, Javier (Benicio del
Toro) and Manolo (Jacob Vargas), as they intercept a coke
delivery, then are themselves intercepted by a Mexican army
unit led by the sinister General Salazar (Tomas Milan). Soon
Javier and Manolo are caught up in a terrifying web of temptation,
corruption and cruelty.
introduced to Ohio Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas),
the conservative about to be appointed the nation's drug czar,
who doesn't yet know his clever, pretty teenage daughter (excellent
Erika Christensen) is running with a druggy, preppy crowd.
meet two determined San Diego DEA agents, Montel (Don Cheadle)
and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) who are working on a sting operation
designed to bring down local drug baron Carlos Ayala (Steven
results in the arrests of San Diego dealer Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel
Ferrer) and Ayala, much to the shock of his pregnant European
wife, Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who always assumed her
husband was a legitimate businessman.
story lines converge as Helena, upon the advice of her husband's
sleazy attorney (Dennis Quaid), acts quickly and ruthlessly
to save her husband from conviction.
steals the film as Javier, conveying a world of frustration
and fear with his eyes alone. And the great Cheadle, whose
movie career took off with "Boogie Nights," shows
once again why he is one of our finest younger actors.
the many extraordinary things about "Traffic" is
the cast: The movie is reminiscent of those giant war movies
"A Bridge Too Far" and "The Longest Day,"
in which one famous actor after another pops up in small roles.
has clearly become one of those filmmakers everyone wants
to work with, like Woody Allen and Robert Altman.
Brolin is the U.S. general who is Wakefield's cynical, frustrated
predecessor, and Albert Finney is the president's chief of
mob lawyer is Peter Riegert, the gangster's moll in Mexico
City is Salma Hayek and an almost unrecognizable (and unprecedentedly
good) Benjamin Bratt is the shadowy Tijuana cartel boss.
Washington scenes, there are cameos by Senators Orrin Hatch
and Barbara Boxer, playing themselves.
In a visual
flourish reminiscent of David O. Russell's "Three Kings,"
the Mexican scenes are all shot in bleached-out yellow tones;
the Washington ones, in cold, blue ones; and the sequences
involving the DEA agents, in bright colors. Soderbergh was
his own director of photography on the picture.
In a daring
gambit that adds to "Traffic's" authentic feel,
all the Mexican scenes are played in Spanish with English
structured screenplay is by Stephen Gaghan, previously responsible
for the unimpressive script of "Rules of Engagement."
scenes have that sharp, witty, unmistakably Soderberghian
touch, especially those that deal with dysfunctional relationships
like the one between the Douglas character and his lawyer
wife (Amy Irving).
two weaknesses are its excessive length and its artificially
sentimental conclusion, a jarring surprise after so much uncompromising
"Traffic" is never less than entertaining, and clearly
ranks among the year's most accomplished movies.