[Movie Review] Traffic

TrafficStarring: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Miguel Ferrer
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 2000

“Traffic” cleaned up this year at the Oscars, winning Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Editing. Director, Steven Soderbergh is not exactly a newcomer, his previous credits are 1989’s controversial “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and 1998 thriller “Out of Sight”. But he is now best known for the multi-threaded “Traffic”, a many-perspective look at the effects of drug culture.

Mexican cops, Javier (Oscar winner, Del Toro – “The Usual Suspects”, “Way of the Gun”, “Snatch”) and Manolo (Jacob Vargas – “Get Shorty”, “Crimson Tide”) battle against corruption in their own police force as they attempt to crack the major drug families in their home land.

In California, Agent Castro (Luis Guzman – “Bone Collector”, “Snake Eyes”, “Boogie Nights”, “Carlitos Way”) and Agent Gordon (Cheadle – “Swordfish”, “Mission to Mars”, “Out of Sight”) are on stakeout as they protect Eduardo Ruiz (Ferrer – “Hot Shots Part Deux”, “The Assassin”) after he agrees to give evidence against his drug-trafficking boss, Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer). Ayala’s expecting wife (Jones – TVs “Darling Buds of May”, “Entrapment”) is left to deal with the shock of seeing her providing husband locked away, leaving her to fend for herself and their son.

And in Washington, Judge Robert Wakefield (Douglas) is appointed the new Drug Czar, responsible for crushing drug trafficking in the US, but also facing the considerable shock of discovering that his own daughter is a heroin user.

Cutting sharply from one standpoint to the next, “Traffic” manages to link plots that relate only from the central theme. Javier and Manolo never come in direct contact with the politicans, the suffering wife of the drug trafficker never interacts with the devestated father of the drug addict. The director weaves their individual stories in a way that brings surprising cohesion to the movie.

Soderbergh is the main architect behind this films relative success. His method of skipping frames in certain scenes adds an anxious ‘twitch’ where required, and his use of coloured filters to represent certain scenes helps to add atmosphere without partitioning the story too much.

Benicio Del Toro delivers a stunning performance as the weathered cop who wants to win the war, and risks his life to do so. Sadly his fine acting was not matched by compelling action. Many of his scenes were subtitled and filled frequently with characters that were unknown, and hard to empathise with. I spent much of the time trying to computate what was going on down in Mexico.

Caroline (Erika Christensen), the teenage daughter of Judge Wakefield, excels as a girl rebelling against her perfect existence by living a life of twisted drug abuse and sexual decadence. Christensen is outstanding and her performance very reminiscent of that which made Julliet Lewis one to watch in the late eighties and early ninties. Douglas by comparison, is disappointing. His character is dull and at points, pathetic. The whole point here is that we have a man given the job of winning the war on drugs in the USA, but finds himself unable to win the war within his own family. Instead of feeling sympathy, I felt totally apathy.

His real-life wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, also struggles with her flawed character. Used to respect from her peers, the seemingly weak-willed Ayala finds herself shunned and broke after her husband is carted off to prison. With support from lecherous friend and attorney, Arnie (Dennis Quaid), she manipulates those around her to find solutions to her problems, no matter what the cost to others. But it just doesn’t make sense. At no point does she seem strong, or even hint at it. She is repulsed by her husbands seeming criminal activity, but as she crosses the same lines that he did, you are left wondering why her whole character goes 180 degrees.

Luckily Don Cheadle and the ever-reliable Luis Guzman are given time to entertain us, and the tools to deliver the best parts of the movie. Cheadle is emerging as one of Hollywood’s hottest talents and it is easy to see why he is being chased for a lot of the big movies now. Hopefully he will choose better than “Swordfish” next time – but I think the phrase is ‘strike while the iron is hot’.

Overally, “Traffic” is a puzzling movie. Uninspiring for the most part, but watchable in the end. Save for Soderbergh’s directorial antics, and the performances of Del Toro and Christensen, this would have been a dead loss.

2star

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[Movie Review] One Night At McCool's

One Night At McCool'sStarring: Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman, Paul Reiser, Michael Douglas, Andrew Dice Clay, Reba McEntire
Director: Harald Zwart
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

When you decide to go see a film with Liv Tyler that is already immortalised by a car-washing scene where she sprays herself more than the car, you probably get the perfectly logical feeling that all else will pale in comparison. Thankfully, Norwegian director Harald Zwart does not overly rely on the Liv element as he delivers a black comedy with a spirit and quality far in excess of what you might expect.

No Caption Required. Ahem.“One Night at McCools” is a black comedy charting the individual experiences of three men, who all fall in love with the same woman after meeting her at the same bar. Bartender Randy (Dillon – “There’s Something About Mary”, “Beautiful Girls”, “To Die For”) sees Jewel (Tyler – “Armageddon”, “That Thing You Do”, “Stealing Beauty”, “Silent Fall”) as the home-maker that he hasn’t had since his beloved mother died, sleazy lawyer Carl (Reiser – TVs “Mad About You”), with the straight-laced spouse, becomes besotted with the sexy temptress and Detective Dehling (Goodman – “Coyote Ugly”, “Big Lebowski”, “Fallen”) imagines her to be the re-incarnation of his deceased wife.

Each man tells his own story seperatly, lending a unique slant to each view, before the three threads all meet up for the final showdown. Carl discusses his frustrating life and longing for adventure with his therapist (country singer, Reba McIntyre), Dehling tell Father Jimmy of the guilt he feels (Richard Jenkins – “Absolute Power”, “Wolf”, “Me, Myself & Irene”) and Randy tells his story to Mr Burmeister (Douglas – “Traffic”, “Wonder Boys”, “A Perfect Murder”, “The Game”), the hitman he has hired to kill Jewel, because she threw out his snow-globes.

Zwart (known more for directing music videos and adverts) keeps things snappy and interesting, and this worthy story is never a struggle to follow. There are some nice touches, like the non-existent Noo-Yawk attitude that Dehling subconciously attributes to Randy while telling his story, and a number of other running jokes and references that always evoke a smile during the movie.

Performance wise, Goodman and Tyler never convince while Dillon is as mediocre as ever, but Reiser and McIntyre"...so John was just taking me for a walk" make an entertaining double act, Jenkins delivers some hilarious “a priest shouldn’t say that” moments and Michael Douglas steals the show as the bingo-playing hired gun.

The characters are fairly shallow and any background we do get on them is only provided to ensure we don’t take any of them particularly seriously. A number of the situations are utterly luidcrous. For example, after losing his job and his home, Randy gets tipped over the edge when he sees the aforementioned snow-globes thrown in the trash.

While rarely laugh-out-loud funny, ‘One Night at McCools’ is consistently entertaining. It’s hard to know what it is that keeps things so together – the characters are one-dimensional and the story is not edge-of the-seat-stuff. But for sheer unexpected entertainment, this ranks as one of the years best so far.

3halfstar