[box cover]

Traffic

Traffic is top notch American filmmaking with an art house flavor from a director coming into his own, and supported by excellent actors embodying a multi-narrative screenplay that must have been very difficult to organize. Traffic's predecessor is Traffik, the six hour BBC/Channel Four miniseries produced in 1989, and broadcast on PBS in the early '90s. The movie bears many similarities to the series, but also significant changes. Both interweave three to four stories that capture the internecine nature of international drug smuggling and drug use. One thread in Traffic concerns Helena and her husband Carlos (Steven Bauer, a shadowy presence in the film) and the changes she goes through as she learns more about his real business. There is the tale of the two cops (Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman), pursuing Ayala primarily through their unwilling star witness, Ruiz (Ferrer). This story shows how drugs get to America. The next strand shows the effect of that drug trade on middle America as it follows the descent of Caroline (Erika Christensen) into addiction as her father Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) stands by mostly helpless. The paradox for him is that he has just been made the nation's Drug Czar. The final thread follows the efforts of Mexico's seemingly only honest cop, Javier (Benicio Del Toro). He can essentially hand General Salazar (Thomas Millian) over to federal drug agents. All he wants in return is a special favor. With four Oscars (adapted screenplay, direction, supporting actor and best editing), Traffic just as well is a four-star movie. But one wishes the disc were a five-star event. USA Home Entertainment has offered up a very good transfer, but minimal extras. Normally, making a fuss about extras is bush league, but Traffic poses questions the viewer would like to have answered. For example, "Inside Traffic" (the "making-of" doc on the disc) or an audio commentary track could have addressed the issue of why Soderbergh, who was his own director of photography, chose dominant colors for each of his stories (the Michael Douglas story is blue, the Del Toro story is yellow). Why did he think this would help the story rather than be distracting? Also, the published screenplay contains many, many "omitted" notations for scenes removed from the text. Will we ever find out what was in those scenes? And this would also be the place to hear what the filmmakers think of the drug world they have committed to film. Are their ideas about drugs as mainstream and Hollywoody as they for the most part seem? Instead, the viewer gets a making-of documentary that is 60 percent clips from the film, and with only a few snippets of comment from the cast and crew. A suspicious DVD collector might theorize that a Special Edition might be in the works sometime down the line. Other than that, the DVD comes in a superb anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer that's virtually flawless, with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Trailers, photo gallery. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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