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Traffic (Stephen Soderbergh) 2000

Stephen Soderbergh's Traffic left me fairly impressed by what I saw, especially by the standards of the Hollywood political drama. The film certainly continues Soderbergh's recent hit streak. The guy's a great, efficient director, there's no doubt about it. Tightly edited, the film has an amazing amount of forward propulsion.... the 2 hour 20 minute running time really flew by. Soderbergh's films of late all have used a fair degree of color tinting, but this is the first time I found it to be a bit distracting. I suppose it's used to help the audience differentiate between the different locales of the film, but it was a bit too stylized. One of his other major directorial traits has been his teriffic use of editing. Out of Sight has some of the best editing ever. Erin Brockovich certainly had its share of great cuts as well, and probably contained my favorite editing of the year. Traffic is almost as good as Erin Brockovich was in this department. A lot of incidental action is trimmed out to keep the pacing up. We never have a scene linger beyond what is necessary to get the point across.

The ensemble cast is huge, and there are a few surprising cameos throughout. The best performance in the film belongs to Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the wife of a California based drug distributor. She undergoes the greatest transformation during the film, and nails every scene. Every time she is on screen, her resourcefulness commands you pay attention to her. Michael Douglas' performance as a conflicted drug czar is also quite good. A real standout though, is Erika Christensen, who plays his 16-year-old, drug-addled daughter. Still laden in baby-fat, her orgasmic reaction as she takes a hit is unnerving. Benecio Del Toro, who has not impressed me in past performances, really doesn't do extraordinary work here. There are few moments where he drops his guard & exudes any sort of charisma, but the one time he does (he acts gay to pick up a dealer) is fantastic.

 The film is quite deft in the juggling of its three main storylines, and all of them remain interesting until the end. As a political movie, it certainly has a lot to say, though I'm not sure that I agree with it all (which is fine). Certainly it's a better anti-drug film than Requiem for a Dream, this year's other major entry in the genre, and it's also better than Wonder Boys, Douglas' defiantly pro-drug film that was released several months ago. There is one plot twist, however, late in the film involving Michael Douglas' character that really stupefied me. It goes against everything the film told us about him to that point. All in all, it's one of the best (though not the best) films of the year.

****

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman