I’ll be the first to say that I’m not an expert on the filmography of Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen his Oceans films (of which Ocean’s 12 is my favorite,) and Out of Sight; but I’ve got a number of his movies in my Netlifx queue and own a copy of Solaris. I’ve quite enjoyed all five of the films of his that I’ve seen, but have not seen any of his smaller, independent films.

As for Traffic, I have to say it was quite good.

The movie tells three tales that are partially related, but never cross over enough to be distracting or seem gimmicky. All three tales are about the various ways that drugs and drugĀ  trafficking affect people. The stories are told in a fashion by which the narrative jumps between the three vignettes at any given time, while proceeding along through each at a relatively equal pace. Each one acts as a sort of mini movie; it’s as if you took an anthology movie and intertwined all of the stories to tell in pieces but mixed linearly together. It kind of reminded me of a P.T. Anderson movie, but with fewer sprawling artsy moments.

One of the vignettes is set in Tijuana, and is about Benicio Del Toro as a police officer who gets pulled into the plans of a general manipulating the drug cartels; It’s a performance for which Del Toro won best supporting actor.

Another is about Michael Douglas as an Ohio judge, newly appointed as head of a presidential task force on drugs. The problem though is his daughter is fond of freebasing and hangs out with Topher Grace. So he has to try and balance his political life with his crumbling home life.

The third segment concerns Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman as cops who’re busting Miguel Ferrer, and then using his criminal tips to bust the husband of Catherine Zeta Jones. Jones then finds out her hubby was a drug dealer, and in an effort to preserve luxurious life and protect her kid, she decides to continue the cocaine trade.

So yea there’s a bunch of famous people in this movie.

The best thing about Traffic is that despite the fact that each of the plotlines sounds like fodder for some sort of preachy anti-drug movie of the week, the movie never denigrates into something like that. We can all pretty much agree that hardcore drugs are bad, and so the movie doesn’t have to ever get preachy, or super, exceedingly melodramatic. There’s a good bit of subtlety to the proceedings.

Each of the segments is given it’s own feel visually, which is a pretty genius move on the production’s part. The parts that take place in Mexico are very, very orange, with washed out colors and a whole lot of film grain. It gives these parts that gritty, harsh feeling that helps accentuate the immorality of what stems from the drug trade centered there. It’s a case of well filmed ugliness, which is actually a good way to describe much of the movie.

The Michael Douglas plotline is cold and blue tinted in direct contrast to the Mexico stuff. It’s kinda like the blue style of Minority Report or the theatrical version of Payback.

The Cheadle/Zeta Jones has an almost normal color scheme, except many light sources are overexposed. Like a simple table lamp will look about as bright as the sun. But due to the visually distinctive nature of the three scenarios you never have trouble figuring out which one you’re currently watching.

Generally the acting in the three stories is decent enough, with Del Toro being my favorite character. What can I say, I like the guy. He gets pretty much unlimited goodwill from me for being in Way of The Gun, which I think is one of the coolest movies of all time. Michael Douglas never really sold me, but I’ve never really been impressed with the guy, and I felt that most of the dramatic punch was put on his shoulders. I can’t really say it’s a huge problem, cause I don’t think that the movie was going for melodrama, but the human element isn’t all that emotional in the movie. It doesn’t feel like too big of a problem though, cause you’re always interested in where the movie is going to go next, you always feel that the meta story is going to continue.

The movie is filmed in a style that resemble a documentary, with focusing and hand held camera work. Overall it helps to make the whole affair feel more real, like this really could be a documentary and not a big ensemble movie. Because all the characters feel like they’re part of a bigger picture, that the story will continue with or without them. It’s to the films credit that it manages to achieve such a feeling, that it is part of something bigger. But it never sits you down and explains in a monologue “THIS IS HOW DRUGS HURT PEOPLE, BE SAD NOW”.

And because of that Traffic is pretty great.

Also there’s a scene in which Cather Zeta Jones’ character drives to Mexico and decides to become an cocaine dealer, and she has a bunch of toys made from pressure molded cocaine. That’s pretty cool too.

For being a two and a half hour movie about drug trafficking that never gets boring, preachy, or exploitative; all while being artistically creative with how it tells its three stories, I can easily recommend a viewing.

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