Traffic (2000)

(In theaters, January 2001) Generally speaking, I’ve given up on cinema as a narrative medium. Sure, it can show me cool pictures and exciting battle scenes, it can make me laugh or wow me with special effects, but films that succeed at telling me a story are few and far in between. That’s, in large part, what pleased me so much in Traffic: The sense that it’s willing to tell a large, complex story in a way that’s appropriate for the medium. Granted, it’s an adaptation of a British miniseries (which explains the density of plotting) but a good one, relocating the action and reformulating it in terms of American interest. Traffic is, roughly, three stories centered around three locations. The weakest of the bunch is about some rich kid getting addicted: it’s all very TV-movieish familiar and smacks of facility (Our rich white girl even gets a black pimp, which is good for a meta-giggle or two.) At least the Mexican story is less black-and-white (if you’ll excuse the juxtaposition and the cinematographic in-joke) and the Californian story carries some suspense. In any case, this rather long film passes quickly, and carries through to a satisfying ending. Technically, the film is exceptional, from the nervy direction to the convincing cinematography. (Though the color tinting is very heavy-handed) All acting credits are excellent, from the movie stars (Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones) to the B-stars (Benicio del Toro, Randy Quaid) to the character actors (Luis Guzman, Miguel Ferrera). As if that wasn’t enough, Traffic is a welcome change from the usual Hollywood pablum in that it’s willing to tackle a controversial political issue. Whether it has something of value to say takes back place to the willingness of the attempt. All in all, one of the best films of the year.

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