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A patchwork of stories about various factions of the drug trade, including dealers, abusers and the law enforcement officials who pursue them. Mexican policeman Javier Rodriguez works on and around the border with his close friend and fellow policeman Manolo Sanchez, under Mexico's number one crime fighter, General Salazar. Confronted with temptations of power and money, Javier resists them but finds himself--and Manolo--caught in a web of corruption that leads to an untenable situation. Back in the U.S., Ohio State Supreme Court Justice Robert Wakefield is named by the president as the new antidrug czar. Collecting information, the uncompromising and conservative Wakefield prepares to supervise the country's task forces and partner them with Mexico's. But, at home, he and his wife Barbara must deal with their increasingly drug-addicted teenage daughter Caroline. In San Diego, undercover DEA agents Montel Gordon and Ray Castro work overtime to help the U.S. government build its case against the infamous Obregon drug cartel. Their bust of midlevel drug trafficker Eduardo Ruiz pays off when their new prisoner cuts a deal to testify against wealthy drug baron Carlos Ayala, who lives in the upscale suburbs. Carlos is arrested, shocking his unknowing and pregnant wife Helena. Helena and her son are quickly threatened by her husband's associates and tailed by the DEA agents. Enlisting the aid of attorney Arnie Metzger. Helena vows to get Carlos out of jail and keep her children safe-- even if it means taking over her husband's business.
For more about Traffic and the Traffic Blu-ray release, see Traffic Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 24, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Steven Soderbergh
» See full cast & crew
Traffic Blu-ray Review
Steven Soderbergh's dense, multi-layered film is an undisputed masterpiece.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 24, 2010
Senses of humor are among the most subjective things we come pre-wired with as human beings. I still giggle over a little joke I played once on my wife, then my girlfriend, which she frankly doesn't find all that funny (you married guys will understand). As you may guess of someone who loves film as much as I do, I have a rather large home video collection, and Betsy was going through my (then VHS) stacks one day and came across the venerable 1937 Alexander Korda epic The Elephant Boy. She asked me what it was about, and of course (of course!) I replied in a scholarly tone, "It's the prequel to The Elephant Man," which she readily accepted as fact, despite the VHS slipcase featuring a picture of Sabu riding atop a pachyderm. When I informed her of my perhaps lame attempt at humor, she was less than amused, shall we say. I felt like repeating the same joke when she purchased me the SD-DVD of Traffic a few years ago, intent on asking her if it were the prequel to Crash. Luckily, discretion prevailed and we're still happily married. That said, Traffic does bear a certain similarity to the Oscar winning Best Picture of a few years ago, including a convoluted plot featuring interwoven characters, some of whom never meet. If the traffic at issue has nothing to do with automobiles and freeways, the journey of these disparate (and sometimes desperate) characters is at the core of one of the most riveting dramas in recent years, one that justly brought director Steven Soderbergh a well deserved Oscar.
As perhaps should be clear from the recent tragic headlines of United States citizens gunned down in drug ravished Tijuana, the effects of illicit activity spiral out of control in often unexpected ways, affecting people on both sides of the border, sometimes fatally. Traffic explores the complicated interrelationships of a host of people caught up in various aspects of this international "drug war," from users to suppliers to law enforcement personnel to military professionals, many of whom have secret lives which spill out into the unfolding stories as the film progresses. Culled from a late 1980's British miniseries similarly entitled Traffik, Traffic features three basic stories whose edges smear into each other. Oscar winner Benicio del Toro portrays Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez, who is hired by a General (Tomás Milián) to capture an infamous cartel hitman. In a somewhat ironic piece of casting considering recent headlines featuring his own real life drug using, and now jailed, son, Michael Douglas is on hand as Judge Robert Wakefield, who is appointed to manage the Office of National Drug Control. In a sad piece of real life versus film synchronicity, Wakefield's daughter (Erika Christensen) turns out to be an addict herself, something Wakefield's wife (Amy Irving) has known about for some time, much to Wakefield's chagrin. The third leg of this plot triumvirate involves the machinations of two Drug Enforcement Agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán) to bring an infamous drug lord named Ayala (Steven Bauer) to justice. In a sort of mirror image of Wakefield's ignorance, Ayala's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is unaware of her husband's real profession, leading to some finagling with her own attorney (Dennis Quaid) and the authorities prosecuting her husband.
Multi-character dramas with several parallel story lines go back at least to the venerated MGM classic Grand Hotel, but they've become more and more popular especially over the last decade or so, perhaps as a result of the quick-cut, ADHD generations that have sprung up in the wake of video games and modern television techniques. A firm directorial hand is absolutely necessary to keep these humongous plots from veering off course. Witness, for example, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, a sort of analog to Traffic with a stuffed full to overflowing set of intersecting storylines. Anderson's epic is absolutely riveting for the first 45 minutes or so, as the characters are being introduced and Anderson engages one thrilling tracking shot (often without edits) after another, but then things slowly peter out, leaving the bulk of the film drowning in lethargy. Soderbergh may be a less "showy" director, but that's actually for the best in a film as complex as Traffic. Though Soderbergh's vision comes through mostly in the interesting variety of palettes he exploits for the various storylines (more about which you can read in the Video section below), for the most part Soderbergh wisely lets the characters do the legwork here, rather than the camera, and the result is a remarkably clear amalgamation of various plotlines and character arcs which are all both viscerally involving and also easy to follow.
Performances are uniformly excellent throughout the three hour or so running time of Traffic. Del Toro won a well-deserved Oscar for his work in the picture, but matching him every step of the way is fellow Academy Award nominee Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose character really could have devolved into stereotypical histrionics with a less nuanced approach. While Zeta-Jones' real life husband Michael Douglas is stalwart and authoritative in his role, I strangely found him to be the weakest link, perhaps because the character is relatively straitlaced and tamped down compared to some of the more explosive individuals being portrayed. Soderbergh mounts the action sequences extremely effectively, but also never loses track of the human element, one of the reasons Traffic maintains such an emotional wallop over a rather long running time.
Soderbergh has amassed one of the most interesting bodies of work of any contemporary director. He is one of the few directors capable of walking the tightrope between relatively lowbrow but extremely slick multiplex entertainments (the Oceans trilogy) and more thoughtful, contemplative pieces (his breakthrough film Sex, Lies and Videotape or even the underappreciated The Good German from a couple of years ago). Soderbergh is less about flashy directorial style, though he has that in abundance, than about solid story craft and character development, two items Traffic also has in abundance. A film this convoluted could have become a lumbering mess with a director less willing to let the stories be the focus. Rarely has an almost three hour film maintained interest so flawlessly, indeed even effortlessly, and this achievement must surely be credited to Soderbergh's inerrant ability to keep an audience engaged with three stories whose connections aren't always on the surface, and indeed which in some instances never totally connect at all. Traffic has been acclaimed as one of the greatest films of the last couple of decades, and for once that critical mass is not misplaced.
Traffic Blu-ray, Video Quality
Traffic's image quality on its various home video releases has been a subject almost as convoluted as the film's storylines themselves. I start this analysis by saying up front I have only seen the first SD-DVD release (which is contained on this flipper disc), and the Criterion SD-DVD version. I have not seen the HD-DVD or the international Blu releases that have cropped up in recent years. The SD-DVD was marred by horrible contrast and what some people alleged were incorrect color schemes. What few people seemed to realize is that Soderbergh clearly delineated the three major stories in the film with a very clear separation of tones, from cool blues to warmer sepias and beiges. While this may be a subliminal effect, once you begin paying attention to it, it's unmistakable and really quite fascinating in its own regard. So, what are we really seeing in this latest, VC-1 encoded Blu in 1080p and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio? The first thing you will notice in this particular release is omnipresent grain, which I found absolutely in keeping with Soderbergh's quasi-verité approach to Traffic. The grain is certainly more noticeable in the dusty, grimy Mexican sequences, but it's there throughout the film and may trouble those who want their films CGI smooth all of the time. As far as the variegated color schemes go, they're remarkably well represented here, with a fine array on both the cool and warm sides of the color wheel. Detail is impressively sharp throughout the film, and a simple flip of the disc to the SD-DVD side will show what an improvement in sharpness and clarity is achieved in this latest Blu incarnation.
Traffic Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The good news is we're given a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix for this Blu-ray release. The bad news, it's still a bit on the lackluster side, with too few immersive moments to really satisfy hardcore audiophiles and a general lack of low end, except in one or two sequences, to make it really come alive. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying, though, for what is here is perfectly fine, with dialogue nicely directional and for the most part easy to hear (you have to wade through some thick accents at times), and foley effects and underscore very well mixed into the proceedings. In one or two literally explosive sequences, we finally get the sort of "wow" factor that most high-def aficionados demand from their Blu experience. Bullets whip pan brilliantly, with a nice 'thunk' as they find their targets. For all of its occasional bombast, Traffic really eschews an overly violent ethos and remains solidly grounded as a dialogue heavy dramatic film, and for those purposes, this track does just fine.
Traffic Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Don't go looking for Criterion sized extras on this Blu release, one of the major disappointments of this particular home video iteration. Instead we get a lamentable EPK in SD entitled Inside Traffic, which runs a little over 18 minutes, and the marginally better assortment (in SD again) of Deleted Scenes, which run barely over 26 minutes. Both of these were available on the first SD-DVD. If you're in search of excellent bonus content, stick with the superior Criterion release, which offered a plethora of really good supplements.
Traffic Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As complex and convoluted as its subject matter, Traffic is one of the most involving films of the past several decades. Uniformly excellent performances and an unparalleled excellence and assurance from director Steven Soderbergh make Traffic the modern classic it is. It's an often disturbing film on a number of levels, but it remains a compelling depiction of one of the scourges modern society is facing. And that's no joke.
Traffic: Other Editions
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Traffic Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Universal Announces Four Catalog Films on Blu-ray - February 4, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it will release four titles from its catalog (two of them new to high-definition disc) on Blu-ray on April 27: Dune, The Jackal, Out of Africa and Traffic. With the exception of Dune, they will be released ...
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