TRAFFIC —–exemplary Drug War epic from 2000 is still tragically relevant two more bloody, profitable decades down the rabbit hole. Ingeniously crafted by director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephan Gaghan, it’s not exactly a reassuring 147 minutes, but Truth, as they always tell us, hurts. Too damn bad for millions of victims that the gatekeepers of moral certitude don’t exercise honesty with the same vigor they mouth extolling it. After a while, one begins to suspect highest-level collusion….
“If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.”
Adapted from a 1989 British TV mini-series, Traffik, set in Europe and Asia, this Cal-Mex version plays close to home and the vest, pulling in threads of the addiction/interdiction cul de sac from crack dens to cabinet meetings, snaring a bulging array of superbly sketched characters, high and low in station, relation and duration. The smiling, fanged maw swallows all in its path.
The new U.S. drug czar has to contend with the stoner habits of his own daughter while lower-echelon agents on each side of the US/Mexican border jockey with informants, lawyers, hitmen, case-making and corruption. Dense and complicated, Gaghan’s script does a knife-keen job delineating the ersatz conflicting but in reality complimenting array of morays, mindsets and missions. Director Soderbergh, working again as his own cinematographer (billed ‘Peter Andrews’) employs three distinct color palettes to accentuate mood and setting and keep the packed narrative in focus. The swarming cast work like demons to pull it off.
The budgeted $48,000,000 paid off with a hit, grossing $207,500,000, winning Oscars for Direction, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Benicio del Toro) and Film Editing. It was nominated for Best Picture (cleaved by the old-style corrupted empire of Gladiator.)
The sincerity is fierce, yet no-one showboats. Doing top-rate work in the line of fire: Michael Douglas, Benecio del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones (de-glammed), Erika Christensen, Don Cheadle, Luiz Guzman, Topher Grace (how you will want to smash his smug yuppie face in), Jacob Vargas, Dennis Quaid, Tomas Milian, Miguel Ferrer, Clifton Collins Jr., Amy Irving, Peter Riegert, Salma Hayek, Albert Finney, Steven Bauer, D.W. Moffett, James Brolin, Benjamin Bratt, Viola Davis. Among its many credits, the film doesn’t stoop to preach: by a straight-ahead, unsentimental presenting of the societal dilemma as a writhing hydra, it simply lays out the monster for the mythical morality construct it is.