TRAFFIC (Steven Soderbergh, 2000) has already been praised up the wazoo, so it's time for a dissenting opinion.
Parts of this film left me cold. The characters seem driven by the plot rather than vice-versa. Honestly, who buys Catherine Zeta-Jones's split-second transformation from helpless wife to fiendish coke smuggler? The so-called ironies, like the fact that the drug commissioner's (Michael Douglas) daughter is herself a drug addict, are too convenient to be persuasive. And the message behind the film -- that the war on drugs has failed -- is news only if you're George W. Bush.
Yet the way Soderbergh strings these parts together is often mesmerizing. From the first scorched scenes in Mexico, his hand-held camera catching every offbeat character tic, to the engrossing debates between over-privileged teenagers and the final, elegiac ball game, Soderbergh humanizes his characters and rescues the film from cliches. He's helped immensely by the gentle giant performance of Benicio Del Toro as a cop so virtuous that Del Toro took the role of a psychopath in his next film to get away from it.
Some of Traffic's big moments left me cold, but the details linger. And that's where its strength lies. NNN (May 18, Bloor; May 18-22, Revue; May 23, Paradise)