Sunday, December 29, 2013

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Traffic" (2000)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#37

A type of movie I really love is a movie that can engage me on several levels. That usually means movies that feature several storylines. Treating every story in a multi-layered film can be very tricky. Filmmakers have tried and failed many times with bringing a big movie with lots of stories to life. But, one filmmaker who has mastered it is Steven Soderbergh. Never heard of him? He's been making great movies nearly his entire career, and no two are alike. I mean, let's think about it. How did a guy who made experimental sci/fi like "Solaris" make something as balls-to-the-wall, action-packed as "Haywire?" How could one guy make something has fun as "Ocean's Eleven," or make something as silly as "Magic Mike" or as germ-o-phobic as "Contagion" or as informative as "Che?" Soderbergh has a wide scope of talent, and when he projects that talent at a particular target, he's destined for success.

In 2000, Steven Soderbergh tackled the War on Drugs, and through that he created "Traffic." A huge, sprawling story about how the war for drug control has or has not spiraled out of control. We see the war through the eyes of American government workers, teenagers, mothers, drug kingpins, DEA Agents, Mexican detectives, deadly assassins and corrupt military. Yet, through meeting so many people connected to these addictive supplements, we never feel like we never got to know anybody. Everyone's story (and I DO mean EVERYONE'S story) is handled with enough care, enough confidence, enough enough flair to be believable. The script by Steven Gaghan gives Soderbergh the tools necessary to bring a great, textured story to life.  

It also helps that Soderbergh invited some big talent to come and play with him. When you've got a main cast that includes Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quad and Don Cheadle, how do you go wrong? Add a supporting cast that includes Albert Finney, Luiz Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, James Brolin, Salma Hayek, Steven Bauer, Benjamin Bratt and Topher Grace, well, you're set for a great story that point. Each character, no matter how big or small, impacts not only their individual story but the other stories as well. Everything comes to a huge conclusion, and its clever and crazy how well Soderbergh was able to pull it off.

Another crazy thing about "Traffic" is that any one story in this movie could have been a great one by itself. The story of Robert Wakefield (Douglas) the Ohio judge who becomes the nations drug czar begins a crusade of a lifetime, but how far will he go in the War on Drugs when his high-school daughter gets in with the wrong people and becomes an addict? Or the story about Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Del Toro) who gets hired by a decorated Mexican general to arrest drug dealers, but the general isn't who he seems. Then we have two DEA Agents ( Cheadle and Guzman) making the biggest arrest of a lifetime, but will it be enough, if a kigpin's wife (Zeta-Jones) wants everyone connected to their case killed? Through this paragraph alone, it seems like there is enough story for one movie, but Soderbergh keeps everything going smoothly, and it never feels like a jumbled mess.

No doubt though, the crowning jewel of "Traffic" is that it actually has something very specific to say on the War on Drugs. It never takes one political foothold, it never jams its message down your throat, it simply states the facts. Those facts are actually quite scary. This is the genius of "Traffic," and one of the many reasons to why its one of the very best movies from the 2000's.

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