By Emily Epstein
Campus Times Staff
There?s no soundtrack, the footage is sometimes yellowed and rough and there is a cast of thousands. It might not have gotten that Golden Globe, but these are just some of the reasons why director Steven Sonderbergh?s new film ?Traffic? is so interesting.
A thriller set in the world of drug trafficking, ?Traffic? focuses on several different storylines that eventually intertwine.
The first story takes place in Mexico where Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and his best friend are honest policemen working under the corrupt crime fighter General Salvazar (Tomas Milan) to break up the powerful Mexican drug cartel.
This part of the movie is almost completely in Spanish and the grittiness of the film makes you feel as if you are walking through downtown Tijuana. Del Toro delivers a very convincing performance of a man struggling to stay true to himself in a corrupt world.
Meanwhile, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) has just been appointed the United States Drug Czar and is putting a deal together with the Mexican government to combine forces. As Wakefield struggles to win the war on drugs, he discovers that his daughter has a serious drug problem herself.
The scenes where Wakefield struggles to find his runaway daughter are very intriguing, although it is unclear what first led to her addiction. Douglas? performance is moving at the end but at times rather dry.
The film then follows undercover Drug Enforcement Agency agents Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Castro (Luiz Guzman) as they build a case against the Obregon drug cartel. They soon bust a mid-level drug trafficker who is willing to testify against wealthy drug baron Carlos Ayala.
It is not until Ayala is arrested that his pregnant wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) realizes her husband?s unorthodox business drug deals. Suddenly her entire way of life is threatened and she has to take control of her family.
Gordon and Guzman provide terrific banter and some of the only comic relief in the film as they spend eight hours a day in a van staking out Ayala?s house.
Zeta-Jones also gives a wonderful performance as a trophy wife coming from humble beginnings, willing to do anything to hold onto what is precious to her. A scene where she goes to Tijuana to deal with a seasoned drug dealer (Benjamin Bratt) is particularly entertaining.
With these stories an intricate web is set and the plot takes many twists and turns. All the main characters are three-dimensional and it is possible to empathize with them.
You are aware of every minute of this two-and-a-half hour movie, but that?s because the viewer has to think and understand what is going on in each scene to truly comprehend the film.
Unlike Soderbergh?s last films, ?Erin Brockovich? and 1998?s ?Out of Sight,? there is no glossy exterior to this film. The movie, which is based on the British mini-series ?Traffik,? was shot with natural lighting and hand held cameras and the film stocks and colors were also obviously manipulated.
Many scenes of the movie were ad-libbed with present day senators and DEA officials, which adds to the documentary-like feel of the movie.
While at times the film can get a bit tedious, one of the strongest aspects of this movie is that there are a variety of messages about trust, family, society and government. The messages are not drilled into your skull, but rather presented for the viewer to ponder.
?Traffic? is no film for when you want to rest those overworked brain cells, but it is definitely worth a look.