No One Gets Away Clean

Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 3 Stars

Steven Soderbergh's Traffic is a movie about a prominent judge (Michael Douglas) who is appointed by the President to spearhead the war on drugs.  And wouldn't you know that Douglas' own daughter (Erika Christensen) has a problem "just saying no."  But, that's just one of Traffic's stories; and Soderbergh does an admirable job juggling characters that range from the individual drug user to the leader of a drug cartel.
Traffic begins by introducing us to an honest Mexican cop played by Benicio Del Toro.  I think Soderbergh admires the Del Toro character, and he's depicted as a kind of Gary Cooper High Noon type.  Unfortunately, Tijuana isn't the place for Gary Cooper types.
There are many other plots and subplots that are too numerous to go into here.  At 147 minutes, Traffic has a lot to say.  Let me summarize by saying that some of the bad people get what the deserve and some of them walk away.  And some of the good people vanquish and some are destroyed.
Traffic tells stories that have been told before.  That's probably the worst thing you can say about it.  However, the film seems fresh largely due to an excellent screenplay by Stephen Gaghan.  There are great exchanges of dialog that left me thinking "I wish I had written that." 
Soderbergh's direction is outstanding.  He started out as a critics darling with Sex, Lies and Videotape.  After a few films that got mixed reviews, he came back solid with Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich and The Limey. 
Soderbergh isn't afraid to go for style points.  Mexico is filmed entirely in a grainy sepia.  At first, it's almost distracting and then you see how well it works as atmosphere.  Soderbergh's film is equal parts disturbing, funny and provocative.  Most of all, it's ambitious.