Volume 94, Issue 60
Wednesday, January 10, 2001
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Traffic gets green light
Gazette File Photo
MS. ZETA-JONES, JUST ONE QUESTION...ARE YOU AWARE THAT YOUR HUSBAND IS 40 YEARS OLDER THAN YOU? Catherine Zeta-Jones answers some tough questions in Traffic.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
By John Plantus
The year 2000 did not boast a number of great or even memorable films. Even the most anticipated releases left audiences craving something more, something different.
And it's not that the studios didn't have anything better to offer; it's just that they lacked the courage to compete with powerful, blockbuster ad campaigns. So instead, they shuffled their highest quality pictures into limited release. As these movies slowly begin to emerge at a theatre near you, it is safe to say that Hollywood has saved the best for last.
A fine example is director Steven Soderbergh's latest masterpiece, Traffic, in which he skillfully interweaves four main storylines in this provocative look at the drug industry.
Michael Douglas plays Robert Wakefield, an Ohio State Supreme Court justice and newly appointed anti-drug czar. He attempts to breathe new life into the "war on drugs" campaign, but obstacles quickly present themselves. Political indeterminacy and lack of initiative stand on the public end of the spectrum, while his own daughter's chemical dependency cripples his domestic life.
On the other side of the border, Benicio Del Toro plays Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican police officer who joins forces with a corrupt military outfit in hopes of bringing down a Tijuana cartel. The line between right and wrong blurs, as he uncovers how closely the government and the industry are connected.
Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman star as Montel Gordon and Ray Castro, Los Angeles Drug Enforcement Agents in charge of witness protection. They consider the futility of their work when big business threatens to immobilize justice.
Finally, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Helena Ayala, the wife of a high-level trafficker who is being prosecuted by the state. When her hard-earned affluence and social standing are threatened, she goes to extreme measures to ensure the case is dismissed.
Throughout the film, the connections between government and the drug industry as big business are strengthened, subtly exposed as characters brush past each other on the streets. The grand scale of the industry makes the drug war seem like a futile struggle, while the impact the illegal trade has on the individual calls for action to be taken. Traffic takes a bold look at this overwhelming paradox.
With two of his films generating Oscar buzz this year alone (the other is audience favorite, Erin Brockovich), Soderbergh is one step away from becoming a household name, and not without justification. Versatility is his bag and works such as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight and The Limey illustrate his interest in adapting subject matter to the multi-textured elements of the film medium.
Traffic is no exception. It is photographed through a variety of colour filters that give the film a gritty, saturated look. This technique is not used to create an emotional atmosphere, but rather as a method of distancing the audience. The film doesn't examine the drug trade so much as observe it, and it elicits the viewers' response by asking them to remain cognizant, to form their own opinions.
The ensemble cast is masterfully thrust into this style. Each performance is as compelling as the next and there is a natural realism maintained that prevents the characters from appearing constructed. Soderbergh is careful to maintain an eye on the broader scope, not the intimate melodrama.
Traffic is a film that both challenges and entertains. For his ability to push boundaries and incite thought, Soderbergh deserves to be credited amongst some of the best directors in the industry. Equally, Traffic deserves nothing but the highest acclaim.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000