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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | Traffic 2000
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Simon Moore (mini-series Traffik), Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro,
Luis Guzmán, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Topher Grace, Erika Christensen
Language: English
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The verdict: ½/ 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis Traffic interweaves three loosely connected stories that show the drug war in the United States from different perspectives. The first storyline involves a Tijuana cop [del Toro] and his partner, who learn firsthand about the battle for market control between Tijuana’s top two drug lords when they find themselves getting involved with one side of the power struggle, and slowly getting pulled into the nefarious dealings and back-stabbings of that world. In a second storyline, a wealthy, pregnant San Diego socialite [Zeta-Jones] finds her pretty little world falling apart when her husband is hauled away by the DEA, and she learns that everything she owns has been purchased with drug money. Meanwhile, an Ohio judge [Douglas], recently handpicked by the President himself to head the United States’ war on drugs, finds the problem attacking closer to home when he learns that his 16-year-old daughter [Christensen] has been “experimenting” for quite a long time, and now has a very serious drug addiction.

Review For the longest time, when Traffic was out in the theatres and critics were proclaiming it the Best Movie of the Year!, I put off checking it out myself. I’d ask friends who saw it what they thought, and the universal answer would be some variant on: “Great. Well-done. Very impressive” So when it came out on video, I figured there’d be plenty of people who’d be willing to watch it again along with me, seeing as how they all agreed it was so brilliant and all. Or …not.  My suggestion would inevitably be followed by: “You know, I just don’t think I really want to watch it again.” Fortunately I happened to be back home visiting my parents at the same time as my med student brother, who’s been so busy studying like a madman for the past half year that he’s the only other movie-lover in the country, besides me, who hadn’t already seen Traffic on the big screen. So we rented it. And frankly, it’s easy to see why Traffic isn’t the sort of movie that makes you want to watch it over and over again. See, Traffic is very smart and very handsome, yet somehow, curiously lacking in a soul. You can’t help but be impressed by the articulate way in which it paints a picture of the futility of the United States’ so-called war on drugs, but the stories it tells leave you feeling very cold, very detached – the characters feel like stereotypes whose lives are metaphors, displayed onscreen to represent an overarching point rather than the harsh realities of the impact of drugs on real people that you could actually care about. Even the way the film is shot – with the del Toro scenes bathed in scorching orange-yellow, the Zeta-Jones scenes shot unfiltered, the Douglas scenes washed in a cool, muted blue – is simultaneously gorgeous and completely un-evocative. With the fine acting, the fine cinematography, and the fine editing that ensures you’ll never be bored, the only thing wrong with Traffic is that it doesn’t make you feel a damn thing.  In the end, Traffic is easy to admire but hard to love. —reviewed by Y. Sun   

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