Soderbergh's already praised Traffic is easier to respect
than to love, largely because it takes a coolly detached approach
something any honest docudrama about a subject as pernicious
as the drug trade has a right to do. After all, there are
no easy answers to the problem in life or on the screen
and perhaps that's why this multipart story has a surprisingly
then, Stephen Gaghan's script mines nearly 2½ hours
of consistently credible drama from four interlocked stories
inspired by a British TV miniseries, Traffik. And Gaghan's
approach makes sense, because drug use by its nature can make
very strange bedfellows of scummy traffickers, narcotics agents,
wealthy suburban users and adolescent addicts.
the stories can be taken as one, given that they deal with
narcs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Benicio Del
Toro and Jacob Vargas play Tijuana cops trying to bust the
drug trade with even less official help than they think they
American counterparts are Drug Enforcement Administration
agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who successfully "sting"
a San Diego dealer (Miguel Ferrer, brilliantly conveying malevolence
in defeat) and induce him to squeal on the local Mr. Big (Steven
La Jolla businessman, in turn, is married to a pregnant and
oblivious society/charity type played by Catherine Zeta-Jones,
an actress who doesn't get to share a single scene with her
new real-life husband, Michael Douglas.
is cast as an Ohio Supreme Court justice who has just been
named the nation's drug czar, a man whose organizational skills
cloud the fact that he hasn't a clue.
that his teenage honor-student daughter (Erika Christensen)
has been freebasing with spoiled school pals in their upscale
Cincinnati suburb, and that's only the beginning of her downward
has photographed Traffic himself (under a pseudonym) in raw
handheld fashion and with washed-out and brighter colors aggressively
clashing. While the visual tone doesn't exactly seem inappropriate,
it does make the movie one of the ugliest of the year.
itself is surprisingly seamless, yet it's the individual components
that linger: bandying between Cheadle and Guzman; Del Toro's
weary, Charles Bronson-like countenance; Zeta-Jones' dramatic
and pragmatic personality switch after gauging her sorry future.
its year-end acclaim, Traffic doesn't seem that much better
than (or even as good as) Soderbergh's past three features:
Out of Sight, The Limey and Erin Brockovich. But only he has
the unbroken string of recent quality pictures that could
even start a debate.
Copyright 2000 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.