Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year Released: 2000
Fifteen minutes in and I was already thinking: somebody tell this guy we already have one von Trier. Traffic is a flashy, color-coded anti-drug film that uses its hand-held cameras and moody lighting to replace the void where intellectualism or even a shred of depth should be. It's the kind of film you want to see about drugs: how it destroys teenage lives (you're supposed to be disgusted by how Michael Douglas' daughter engages in meaningless promiscuous acts to obtain drugs), how it incites violence, how it sucks up our tax dollars and how it breaks up families. To quote Don Cheadle's character (who may have been referring to this very movie): I'm not Larry King, tell me something more. There are many threads running through Traffic Altman/Anderson style: there's the aforementioned Cheadle and pal Luiz Guzman investigating Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose husband is on trial, there's Michael Douglas, the appointed head of America's "war on drugs," and his disintegrating family, there's Benecio Del Toro, and his battles with his own conscience in Tijuana, which is being controlled by the drug czars. All their lives intertwine somehow, and they all affect one another in some way even though they may never speak to each other. But while some of the plot points aren't exactly clear, and some of the characters' motives aren't explicitly stated (the cross-cutting Soderbergh employs to cover all this territory leaves some gaps in each individual narrative), it is the actors and the actors alone that save this and make it worth watching. Sure, the ending is a mess (you knew Douglas had to give a Great Last Speech), and the running time (three hours) a tad long, but you have to admit that it's a great ensemble effort: all the performers add spice to their roles, with Cheadle, Luis Guzman and Benecio Del Toro being genuine scene-stealers (all three typically do that in all their films). And yes, Mr. Soderbergh, we do know that heroin can and does destroy the lives of pretty white kids with problems, and it is the parents who should be the first line of defense in a complicated and possibly un-winnable war.