Appointment with destiny. Officers Rodriguez and Sanchez (Del Toro and Vargas) wait to meet Mr Big...

dir Steven Soderbergh
scr Stephen Gaghan
with Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Amy Irving, Luis Guzman, Erika Christensen, Topher Grace, Steven Bauer, Miguel Ferrer, Tomas Milian, Jacob Vargas, Clifton Collins Jr, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, DW Moffett, Peter Reigert, James Brolin, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek, Albert Finney
release US 27.Dec.00; UK 26.Jan.01
USA Films 00/US 5 out of 5 stars
Adapted from the British TV series Traffik, Soderbergh's second film in less than a year (see also Erin Brockovich) is another stunner--a gripping, gruelling, engaging, entertaining examination of the North American drug trade. The multi-strand script is basically divided into three narratives: In Tijuana, a pair of local cops (Del Toro and Vargas) get involved with government officials and top-level drug barons ... and the line between the two is rather blurred. In San Diego, a top drug dealer (Bauer) is arrested, much to the surprise of his pregnant wife (Zeta-Jones), while his arresting officers (Cheadle and Guzman) struggle to keep the primary witness (Ferrer) alive. And in middle America, a judge (Douglas) has just been named as the nation's Drug Czar, but as he finds out more about his new job he also discovers that his daughter (Christensen) may be a junkie ... and his marriage (to Irving) is in trouble.

Soderbergh expertly weaves the stories together--they touch each other only tangentially, yet each adds thematically to the whole. And the resulting film is absolutely brilliant. Technically superior (outstanding editing, music, sound, art direction, and sharp cinematography by Soderbergh himself), the film is also blessed with revelatory acting from the entire cast, with standout performances from Douglas, Del Toro and especially Zeta-Jones. Each scene in the film is beautifully layered with meaning, which deepens in the way it's set against the parallel storylines. And there isn't a simplistic, easy answer in sight; on the contrary, the script tackles a horrifically difficult subject with intelligence, wit and a refusal to preach ... even though it has important things to say. And it's not just cerebral--this is a powerfully moving drama that makes us feel, not just think about, the issues involved. It should be mandatory viewing for absolutely everyone ... especially those involved in the war on drugs.

[18--strong adult themes and situations, language, violence, drugs] 18.Jan.01

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"Very irritating film ... that could help itself. At every point it was patronising and infanatalising. It felt like a film designed for 13-year-olds who have never ventured outside their gated community. I could go on, but the film does not deserve more comment." --Fernando G, London.
2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall