Steven Soderbergh's Traffic is a powerful triptych examining one of contemporary society's pervasive, pernicious obsessions: drugs. It is an accomplished work. The script weaves three tales intersecting in fresh, intelligent ways. Together they form a gripping commentary on desire, greed, the urge to detach, and the way human appetite will render any “war on drugs” useless. Each segment holds its own with light stylization and distinct camerawork. The actors elicit noteworthy performances from a tight, nuanced script.
Benicio Del Toro sparkles in his role as a Mexican cop ensnared amid corruption and blackmail. He's a decent man up against high-ranking graft. (This section is in Spanish with English subtitles.) Another strand concerns a conservative Midwestern senator (Michael Douglas) appointed to lead America's war against drugs. Unbeknownst to Douglas's character, his teenage daughter has been experimenting with crack and heroin at suburban parties. As her addiction becomes obvious, the senator's public and private worlds impinge and warp. And then there's his nightly sips of Scotch.
Catherine Zeta-Jones heads up the third section. She's a pampered, haughty wife who doesn't realize her wealth comes from drug money until it's too late. Not one to take things sitting down, the pregnant woman reveals a ruthlessness to rival that of her drug czar hubby. The role allows Zeta-Jones more depth than usual. The entire cast is outstanding, however: Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Luiz Goodman, and many others have memorable roles.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of Traffic's quality is the ease with which it's involved, morally complicated narrative unfolds. Soderbergh's cohesive direction and cinematography (he's behind most of the hand-held camera shots) makes for great entertainment unafraid to tackle the intricacies of drug-related issues.
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