The Criterion Collection has re-released Soderbergh’s masterpiece, Traffic. The critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning film weaves together three stories about different aspects of America’s War on Drugs.
Michael Douglas plays Ohio judge Robert Wakefield, who is appointed as the drug czar. He is ready to fight the war hard and win it, but he has no idea the size and scope of the battlefield, which is why he is surprised to discover his home is in occupied territory. In San Diego, Catherine Zeta-Jones lives a wealthy, comfortable lifestyle and is completely unaware that it is financed by her husband’s drug-smuggling until he is taken away from their home in handcuffs by the DEA. Having to deal with maxxed out credit cards, tax liens, and being shunned by her friends would be a tough ordeal for any woman, but when the life of her young child is threatened by men her husband owes $3 million to, she has to make hard choices she never considered before. In Mexico, Benicio Del Toro is a state policeman who along with his partner discovers that the work to take down the Obregon brothers’ drug cartel wasn’t to make the streets of Tijuana safer, but to eliminate competition.
The film is absolutely brilliant on all levels. The screenplay is able to keep all three plotlines captivating by creating believable characters for this talented ensemble to portray. And what an ensemble it is. This is the film that subscribes to the motto that there are no small roles because even characters that make brief appearance come across as fully formed, as if the story might follow them at any time. The cinematography by Soderbergh, credited as Peter Andrews, is masterful. The three storylines each have their own look, using light and film stock to set the mood and help the viewer follow along. Ohio is tinted blue; Mexico is yellow and grainy; San Diego is bright and colorful. Each one adds something different to the story being told.