The Toronto Film Critics association tried a new voting system this year, a first ballot to get down to three nominees in each category, then a final vote on those three. But a remarkable, though not entirely unexpected, thing happened. Benicio Del Toro's performance in Traffic as an honest Mexican cop suspended between trust and disgust made the final voting list as both a lead and a supporting performance.
The latter nomination indicates how well Steven Soderbergh (winner of the association's best-director prize) has integrated the large and star-studded cast into a genuine ensemble. The former nomination, and subsequent win, is a tribute to the power of Del Toro's performance and the way his character acts as the film's fulcrum.
Based on a six-hour British mini-series, Traffic unfolds in a trio of storylines about people involved in the war on drugs -- cops on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, judges and lawyers both honest and corrupt, and unexpected casualties.
In his recent films, particularly Out Of Sight and The Limey, Soderbergh has shown a fondness for scrambling the whole idea of narrative as something unified in time and space. Here, the material lends itself naturally to his style, and he unleashes an array of techniques that keep the audience clear about what's happening, no matter how shifty the narrative becomes.
You learn to recognize the bleached and filtered look of the Mexican sequences, the hand-held jitteriness of the L.A. sequences involving Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman as cops grilling a dealer (Miguel Ferrer).
They contrast with the soft-lit sequences showing the real difference between the rich and poor: the rich have better lighting.