Benicio Del Toro
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The newly appointed drug czar of the U.S. (Michael Douglas) discovers that while the nation is overrun by narcotics problems, even his own daughter has fallen victim to addiction. A young housewife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) awakens one morning to discover that her husband has been arrested on charges of drug smuggling and distribution. A Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) struggles to stay on the right side of the law despite the alluring rewards of corruption. Traffic tells the story of these three individuals and how their lives are ultimately brought together by the binding ties of drugs.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Even though I’m reluctant to hand out labels, this was unquestionably my pick for best movie of the year. Beautifully shot and superbly written, it seamlessly blends the two very different worlds which characterize the drug trade. Both the upper levels and frontlines are covered, providing raw emotion and powerful performances from everyone involved. While the movie itself continually shifts between three very different “sub-stories”, the way which they all manage to come together is what truly makes this a great piece of work. Unlike MAGNOLIA, which tried unsuccessfully to relate its diverse characters (but ended up getting bogged down by its own ingenuity), Traffic convincingly gets the job done. It gets major points for its graphic and honest portrayal of America’s biggest problem, while still providing depth and emotion to those involved. Even as it succeeds in exposing the evils and social issues of drugs, it never resorts to preaching or posturing. It’s raw and unadulterated drama at its finest.
The biggest strength of the movie rests upon the amazing script by Stephen Gaghan and the kick ass showings from Douglas, Del Toro and Cheadle, among others. We feel their collective pain and watch as their lives are forever affected and scarred by drugs and narcotics. Kudos go out to director Soderbergh for creating not only an intellectually compelling film but also a visually beautiful one as well. This movie plays out like a documentary, thanks to the use of plenty of hand held cameras, which adds to the realism of the message. The contrast created between the events in Mexico and the U.S. takes some getting used to but it only adds to the “feel” of the picture. Even the soundtrack deserves high marks with its dreamy and air like quality. The combination of all the above factors makes for an extremely stylized experience which in tandem with its fine performances and intelligent script, is about as good as movies get.
It looks as though the DEA managed to pull off a big ass raid on the DVD as it’s practically void of any decent extras. First up is “Inside Traffic”, an 18-minute promotional piece which features more footage from the movie than interviews with its stars. While we do get some very fleeting glances of behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary pretty much, well, sucks. The only interesting tidbit I picked up from it was that Soderbergh actually served as director of photography for many of the scenes, shooting them himself. Next up is a photo gallery of 40 still images from the movie and production. Finally, we get an English theatrical and teaser trailer (a German one is thrown in too) as well as five TV Spots. The menus are pretty crappily done too, they’re basically just still images set to music.
I can honestly say that this is probably the most disappointing release I’ve seen all year. How such a terrific movie managed to get such an awful transfer to DVD is beyond me and shame on USA FIlms for not giving this one the full treatment. Not only are the audio and video somewhat mediocre but the extras are laughable at best. While I haven’t heard of any plans to release a special edition of Traffic, fans of the movie will have to make due with this bare bones version for now. With that having been said, I’m reluctantly recommending this one as rental material, if only for the incredible film on the disc.