Reviewed on 2007 July 7
Steven Soderbergh did an amazing job condensing the excellent 1989 British mini-series Traffik into a 147 minute movie. In the original British version, the junk travels into Europe from Pakistan. In this version, the dope and money flow like tradewinds between Mexico and the United States. I understand things were pared down considerably for this side of the pond but it’s still a great story, and still manages to show how messy and complicated the whole drug problem is.
The opening shot in Mexico, bathed in yellow light, shows cop Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro, earning both an Oscar and a BAFTA) busting some cartel members. Blue light floods the scenes in Washington and middle America, where newly appointed drug czar Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is blissfully unaware his “perfect” daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is using. The most natural light is reserved for the no-man’s land of California, where socialite Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones) learns her husband David (Alec Roberts) provides their cushy lifestyle as a cocaine lord. To tell anything more about the story would be a disservice to anyone who missed it so far.
Soderbergh uses the same Byzantine plots as the U.K. version, and while yeah, I did prefer the more detailed mini, the soundtrack and cinematography here are amazing. The lighting takes a bit to get used to but after a few minutes you realize how much it adds. There’s one particular raid scene in Mexico where the cold electronic music and that unreal yellow light turn what could have been just another scene into something riveting.
The acting is fabulous too; I wanted to give Caroline and that slimy idiot Seth (Topher Grace) a good hard smack. Not only was Christensen was actually able to make you want to hug and beat some sense into Caroline at the same time, but thanks to Douglas you could feel Robert Wakefield looking at her and thinking the same thing. That makes me disagree with critics who say the acting was one-dimensional. Another criticism is that Helena shouldn’t have been able to accomplish what she accomplished. It was a stretch but Zeta-Jones made me accept it.
Four chocolate morsels.