Traffic (2000) - Criterion Collection
|Genre(s): Crime / Drama / Thriller|
|USA Films || R - 147 minutes - $39.98 || November 5, 2002|
|Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2004-05-05|
Writer(s): Stephen Gaghan (screenplay)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Theatrical Release Date: January 5, 2001
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The war on drugs is an ongoing problem. From ODs to addiction, it is a problem that America has been
fighting for too long. Traffic deals with this issue in a way that I have not seen in other films around the same
subject. It dwells even further than others are willing to go and does a tremendous job at it. It exposes the reality of the
problem bringing it to light. We see every night on the news and see films with people on drugs, but few movies are so
There are three intersecting storylines involved. The first being in Mexico with Benecio Del Toro plays a Tijuana State police officer hired, along with his partner Monalo, by General Anturo Salazar (Tomas Milian), a Mexican government official who is trying to help in the halting of the drug trade.
The second storyline concerns Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield, a man that the President of the United States has appointed the new drug czar. But things are not so peachy when he finds out that his own daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen) is abusing drugs and getting herself deeper into trouble.
And finally the third one headlines Catherine Zeta-Jones as the wife to a big time cocaine dealer. Things get turned upside down for her when her husband is arrested by the DEA and is left alone with her 8 year old son (who has a striking resemblance to Elian Gonzalas) and her unborn child. But to her aid comes Dennis Quaid to give her legal advice and tell her the jist of what is happening.
The acting is incredible. There is not one person in this entire ensemble that does a poor job; rising actors and veterans alike, they all do a great job. There are many recognizable faces including Don Cheadle who is breaking from his comedy background and steering his career into more dramatic roles; actor Topher Grace plays Caroline's boyfriend Seth, not everyone knows who he is but if you have seen "That 70's Show", you will definately recognize him. Along with Topher is another newcomer Christensen who gives a performance that could spawn her career.
And do I have to mention the veterans? Douglas shines in the background and does a worthy job; his wife Catherine Zeta- Jones has some relative good scenes and is also mainly held in the background. The one that to me was noteworthy was Benicio Del Toro. He gives a great performance that I think deserves that Golden Globe nomination. As I said: this is probably the best ensemble cast that I have seen.
As far as Stephen Gaghan's Golden Globe nominated script goes, it is great. It does a fabulous job intertwining the three stories, like when Benicico Del Toro is driving down the streets in San Diego, it quickly cuts to Catherine Zeta-Jones walking on the sidewalk going the other way.
Steven Soderburgh, of Erin Brockovich fame, does a fantastic job on the direction. I was somewhat puzzled on the opening shots when he used a grainy affect (used in Three Kings) for the perspective on Mexico, then a bluish tint for the second story- line concerning Douglas, and finally a glowy orangish for San Diego. It was at first the oddest visuals I have ever seen but after 20 or so minutes it blended in nicely with the rest of the film. The film is based upon the BBC mini-series Traffik created by Simon Moore. Soderburgh has stamped his own signature on each of his films. They seem to have that type of look, mainly consisting of the bluish tint I talked about, and some unorthadox ways of directing.
Overall, it is a film that will not be forgotten in my mind. For me to give a movie this much praise I have some simple criteria- aside from the usual such as acting, script, direction, etc., the main one is how much the film makes me think about that certain issue it brought forth to the audience, after the film is over. This one certainly did that. It is easily one of the best films of the year and I would highly recommend seeing this just so you can see a movie that is not fictitious, but it is something that we are living with everyday and something that should not be ignored.
Personally it's too bad it took a Criterion edition to give this great movie the features it deserves. USA Studios put out a single disc version with bare "key" features including theaterical trailers, TV spots, a behind the scenes featurette (surprisingly not included in this set) and a photo gallery.
With the new Criterion Collection edition we get a slew of features to keep any movie fan busy for a few hours. First I'll start with the commentary from Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan. This by far is the best of the three commentary tracks as the two creators of Traffic talk about why this or that scene was there or why Soderbergh used the saturated look for the Mexico scenes and so on and so forth. Some of the most interesting facts was finding how Soderbergh used set efficiently to keep the budget down. For instance there were only one or two sets actually built specifically for the movie while the rest were real places and some used several times in other movies. The second commentary comes from the producers and consultants. I only listened to a few minutes of this (and the third comentary) throughout the film being it is almost two and half hours long. From what I heard it was boring but had a some things to tell once in a while of how the project came together. The people are separated (something that I do not like) and basically on their own. Now, on the third and final commentary from composer Cliff Martinez as he explains why he was chosen for the music, why he used a particular score for the scene. Also included is a "deleted composition" of sorts as the movie plays alternate music cues. I thought that it was interestring but not anything I want to listen to again. It is strange to hear a commentary from a composer, I think Danny Elfman did one or two, so it is worth listening to for a few minutes.
The 25 deleted scenes took the longest to go through as each has so much to offer and if kept in the film would have contributed to Catherine Zeta-Jones' character. One scene in particular was Jones visiting the wharehouse and factory where the cocaine is being made into dolls (which she later deals with to the Obregon cartel). Some of the scenes shows us how she became what she became in such a short amount of time. Other chopped scenes include Douglas' character talking to Del Toro asking is there any way Mexico can have a drug czar. The last "deleted scene" was actually a gag on Zeta-Jones and is funny the first time- that's it.
The next of the special features are three demontrations. The first, film processing demonstration looks the Mexico scene at the very beginning of the film and breaks it down layer by layer as the commentator talks about where it was sent and what had to happened in each stage. The next one is the editing demonstration with commentary from the editor. He takes you in each stage of the process as he patches together a scene line by line. The third and final one is dialogue editing demonstration that goes the same as the previous two. I guarantee that with these three demonstrations you will learn more about the process than you care to know.
Soderbergh includes in this edition additional footage which features multiple angles from scenes of the EPIC (El Paso Intelligence Center) and the cocktail party where the judge (Douglas) makes his rounds to different senators, celebrities and lobbyists as they state their views on the war on drugs. The EPIC scene is long and dry but it is interesting to switch from three different angles. The cocktail party while long (25 minutes) does have some interesting things in it as real life senators talk about their views without a script. I had a fun time switching angles and hearing the full speech from some of the men and women.
Last is a throwaway feature but cute with the drug K-9 unit dogs having their own cards with stats of seizures they helped find and where they are from.
.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.
As per Steven Soderbergh's request, the sound is kept to a minimal with the dialogue only going through the center speaker and the score being the only thing in stereo. Much like the film itself, it goes against the Hollywood standard. The sounds is good overall.
The only reason I mention the picture quality is because of Soderbergh's unique style he brings to each storyline string (for more info. read my full movie review).
My main reason for giving this DVD a full 5 stars is because it has all the features I have been waiting for. Soderbergh and Gaghan both give interesting and introspective views on the making of movie and the process. The supplemental features are also extensive headlined by the 24 deleted scenes (excluding the gag scene). And of course because this is my favorite film of 2000, I probably enjoyed more than other might. The DVD is expensive but as many of you who have owned Criterion editions, they are worth it.