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Traffic: The Criterion Collection

Well, now we know what Stephen Soderbergh was doing during the summer of 2001. He was recording an audio commentary track to Traffic. And this is good news all around; Criterion's new DVD release adds to our understanding of the film, and it contributes yet another sterling addition (number 151) to the Criterion catalog. Familiarity breeds affection. Yes, Traffic is mostly a collection of almost TV-level clichés derived from crime stories: the two cop buddies, one of whom dies; the bigwig whose own daughter, unbeknownst to him, is more or less a criminal; the naive search for the daughter. But Soderbergh's technique (hand-held camera, Godardian jump-cuts; raw acting) gives a level of verisimilitude to the subject that makes it transcend its (literally) TV show material. Yes, Harrison Ford, originally cast in the Michael Douglas role, might have affected better the Republican stolidity of the character; but watching Douglas more and more, he seems very, very good in the part. Yes, the prominent-father / troubled-daughter story seems to back off of despair; but it nevertheless has its virtues, one of which is showing that, yes, kids are drawn to drugs because they can be fun. Watching the film again with much more attention helps the viewer to isolate some exquisitely beautiful moments, moments of almost visceral physical pleasure. The way Miguel Ferrer's eyes dart back and forth between Guzman and Cheadle; the way James Brolin tells the Kruschev story; the look on Del Toro's face as he enters the gay bar, and the way he holds his gun behind his right hip when he is chasing crooks through the streets of Tijuana. The rhyming, counterpoint tears of Erika Christensen and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the shot of Zeta-Jones driving away from the police station after her husband has been arrested. The way Zeta-Jones resembles Bardot; the eeriness of the Juarez cartel using the symbol "911" for its packaging. There are scores of such moments in Traffic, making it one of the few films from its year that one can watch again and again. Criterion has done a gratifyingly detailed job with its two-disc version of Traffic. Disc One offers the movie and three audio commentary tracks, with an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Disc Two is packed with about three hours worth of material. Aside from the commentary tracks the most significant extra in this set are the 25 deleted scenes, amounting to about 27 minutes of additional footage. Also on board are a film editing demonstration, a dialogue editing demonstration, the theatrical trailer, five TV spots, and "K-9 Trading Cards," a cute feature that offers 99 "trading cards" featuring the drug-sniffing dogs of the U. S. Customs Service. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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