Benicio Del Toro
|"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."|
|Time: 147 mins.|
Won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Del Toro), Director, Film Editing and Adapted Screenplay. Nominated for Best Picture.
It took me awhile to see this movie even though I'm a big fan of Soderbergh. It doesn't star anybody I really like and it's about a subject matter I could care less about. That being said, the positive buzz and nods from the Academy and many critics groups made me search it out. I like to see all of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees before the award ceremony because I think it makes it more interesting. I don't usually agree with all five choices this year in particular with Chocolat or Erin Brockovich but they generally do pick films that are at least well-regarded if fairly middle-of-the-road. TRAFFIC is this year's edgy, "independent" choice and I believe it had a right to be up there...even if I didn't really enjoy it all that much. Some films should not be seen in your living room. This is a picture one should see in a theater where you're forced to stay and sit through the whole thing, to be immersed in the visuals. It just doesn't play well on the small screen. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. It's definitely an intense drama with some amazing performances especially from Del Toro, Cheadle and Christensen but the storylines just didn't grab me the way I expected.
I didn't like any of these people, nor did I feel sorry for their trials and tribulations. On top of that, I found the various plots to be somewhat convoluted and confusing, which I guess is part of the point since they're trying to explain a vast and far reaching problem, but I found myself getting annoyed trying to keep up with all the characters and their machinations. There are 3 basic storylines happening at the same time. The first involves the appointment of Michael Douglas's character to National Drug Czar and the "tiny" problem of his daughter's cocaine addiction. The second deals with the Mexican drug cartels fight over the business in Tijuana and Benicio Del Toro's character playing both sides, cozying up to the Mexican Drug Czar General Salazar while feeding information to the DEA. The third has Catherine Zeta-Jones as an unsuspecting San Diego housewife who must fight for her husband's freedom and the safety of her son when he is arrested on drug smuggling charges. She is followed by federal agents who are both protecting the witness who turned on the husband and watching her every move to determine if she knew anything about his business dealings.
The storyline that deals with Douglas and his family is the most uninteresting and at times the most unbelievable. His character is completely unlikable and if I were his wife I would have left him long before. He is insufferable, arrogant and says things to his loved ones that are beyond rude. It's no wonder his daughter's free basing in her bathroom. Erika Christensen is brilliantly scary as the doped up teen trying to blot out her pain and anger in any substance she can get her hands on. I was all on board with her spiralling addiction until she started prostituting herself for smack. I could believe her sleeping with her dealer for a hit, sleeping with strangers is pushing things a bit too far, I don't care how stoned you are. On top of that, the fact that Douglas doesn't get anyone to help find her, trolling the streets of downtown Cincinnati all by his lonesome is ludicrous. He's the Drug Czar for God's sake. Certainly he doesn't want his daughter's crack whore lifestyle to make it into the newspapers, but I think he could've found someone with enough discretion to lend him a hand. I must say his breakdown and refusal of the position was powerful and engaging, however, it could have been avoided if he actually paid attention to his daughter before he found her naked in a seedy hotel room.
The Mexican cartel feud was one of the more interesting facets of the story. I don't know why anyone would be fighting over a crappy little town like Tijuana. It is the gateway to the United States and if half the figures they quoted about the amount of drugs getting through are true, the war is truly over. Benicio Del Toro gives a powerful, subtle performance as a local Mexican cop trying to make a difference. If I were him, I'd be looking over my shoulder constantly. Not only is he working with the Mexican drug czar, the insane General Salazar who is not exactly against the drug trade, but is selling out his fellow countrymen to the DEA. He was the only character I liked and worried about, the only one who seemed to have his heart in the right place and his mind on his work.
The Zeta-Jones plotline went from interesting to ridiculous in leaps and bounds. Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman were amazing as the cops trying to bring her husband down. Cheadle is so damn talented I wish someone would give him a staring role. He deserves it. I had no problems with Miss Catherine until she started playing kick-ass drug lord. I understand she didn't have many options, but selling coke to kids just to pay her husbands debts doesn't qualify her for mother of the year in my book. I realize if the husband went to jail she'd be left with no means to support her children, but it seems like a big leap to discard your conscience and regard for human life. Don't get me wrong, I thought her performance was quite good, just a bit implausible. Maybe I'm selling the capabilities of pregnant, suburban women short. They say most women will do anything to protect their families, I just think calling a hit on someone and developing undetectable cocaine dolls crosses a fairly big line. The fact that Dennis Quaid's character was drooling over her, didn't help matters. He definitely got what was coming to him.
I'm glad Soderbergh won the Oscar for best direction, since TRAFFIC definitely was one of the most unique visual experiences to come down the pike in quite awhile. Each location and emotion had a different look, feel and soundtrack. The Mexican stories looked all bright, yellow and hot. The city locations with the daughter stoned out of her mind were all blue, dark and cold. The San Diego sequences with Zeta-Jones were all warm and vibrant, creating a world that looks classy on the surface. This technique gives the audience additional, almost subliminal emotional cues to the stories they're watching. Though it could be distracting at times, it helped separate the stories and make them easier to follow. The editor definitely gets kudos for making some sort of discernible movie from all these pieces of film. Unfortunately, though I appreciate the brilliance of the package, the story just left me feeling empty. I understand why Steven Gaghan is winning awards, but just because one writes a complicated story with a lot of different characters that doesn't necessarily make it good. I can't fault him too much. TRAFFIC is just not my filmic cup of tea. I know they wanted to give each story it's fair amount of screen time, but I also found it to be way too long.
If you're a person who avoids watching the news because all they show is murder, death and mayhem, you will probably not like this movie. Like THE INSIDER before it, this is an intelligent, powerful, stylistic film that I think everyone should see once. Whether or not you'll want to see it again is up to you.