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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Traffic
Traffic
USA
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted May 25, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


Director Steven Soderberg packed quite a one-two punch in 2000, opening the year with the heavily (and rightly so) praised "Erin Brockovich" and ending with the equally excellent "Traffic". Both were also highly regarded during awards season. Based upon the miniseries "Traffic", screenwriter Stephen Gaghan and director/cinematographer Soderberg have changed some of it, but still have come up with a riveting and well-acted drama about the war on drugs - or, more specifically in this picture, cocaine.

The movie tells a few different stories that really don't often link up in a cinematic way, but in a different way, the lives of the characters all are connected in their world, simply further up or further down the chain. There's an Ohio Supreme Court Justice named Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), his wife, Barbara (Amy Irving), and their 16-year-old daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen). Although the marriage isn't working quite as well as it used to, the bigger problem is that Robert, who has just been appointed the new leader in the war on drugs, finds out that his own daughter is heavily addicted to cocaine. In Mexico, Javier Rodriguez(Benicio Del Toro) is a police officer who finds himself in the middle of things in the drug trade. Finally, in San Diego, a housewife named Helen(Catherine Zeta-Jones) finds out that her husband (Steven Bauer) isn't quite in the business she thought he was.


There are several other supporting characters that revolve around the main stories. There's a pair of DEA Agents (Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle); Caroline's boyfriend (Topher Grace, quite a few steps away from his character in "That 70's Show"); Helen's lawyer (Dennis Quaid) and many others. In fact, there are over 100 speaking parts, but Soderberg is amazingly able to not only juggle them all, but keep them organized and easy to follow who's who.

Several of the performers give their best effort in recent years. Zeta-Jones and Douglas are both superb. Douglas downplays slightly, and yet still keeps the intensity as a man who finds that he's fighting the war on drugs at home. Zeta-Jones was previously outstanding in a sassy role in "Mask Of Zorro", but when she shows real talent for strong drama here, she's very impressive.

In terms of the two "drug" films of 2000, I have to say I was a little more impressed with Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream", but "Traffic" also remains an outstanding picture.


The DVD


VIDEO: USA Films is not only new to the DVD releasing business, but they haven't even been distributing films for that long. I've looked at many of their discs, and have had mixed feelings about their work. Although not without a few flaws, their edition of "Traffic" is easily their best effort yet. Sharpness and detail are excellent, although they tend to vary a little with the cinematography occasionally being a tiny bit soft by intent; the picture looks crisp and clean, but never really achieves much "depth" to the image.

Flaws were few and far between. I noticed a couple of tiny bits of edge enhancement, but really nothing else. There were no instances of pixelation, and print flaws were kept to a bare minimum - I noticed a speckle or two, but that was about it. Colors are fairly restrained - the film does use certain tones to let the viewer know what story they are currently in, but colors are still subdued otherwise. I did notice a few stumbles along the way, but otherwise, this is a more than satisfactory presentation. I am willing to bet that with the film's creative cinematography there will be some viewers wondering if there is something amatter with the picture, but this is how the film was intended to look. The layer change is at 1:30:09.


SOUND: "Traffic" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film doesn't have a particularly agressive audio presentation, nor does it really need to. The best way to describe the film's sound is that it's natural - no more, no less. Ambient sounds are well-captured during the exterior scenes, and there are a few uses of the surrounds for sound effects throughout the movie. Mainly though, the picture is dialogue-driven and often folds-up to a rather basic audio presentation.

Audio quality remained pleasing. Ambient sounds and effects remained crisp and natural, and dialogue also remained easily heard and understood. The film's score, when it comes in, also sounded warm and rich. Nothing wrong with the film's audio, it's just that there really isn't much going on with it. There's even text about both of the sound choices on the selection menu. The 2.0 presentation is "a 2-track mix optimized for late-night/low-level listening; utilize Pro Logic decoding if available" and the 5.1 presentation is "the same 5.1 mix as heard in theaters."

MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with film-themed backgrounds and the score playing.

EXTRAS: As the hostess of the new NBC game show might say, "this section is the weakest link!". As a director who has previously provided special edition materials for his films, it's greatly dissapointing that all we get here is a featurette and a couple of minor other extras.

Inside Traffic: This is an 18 minute feature that is simply a promotional effort, with interviews talking about the story and really, not much in the way of information. The documentary simply skims the surface of the production, and choses not to go much further than that.

Trailers: The US teaser/theatrical trailer; German trailer; 5 TV Spots.

Also: Photo gallery.



Final Thoughts: "Traffic" is an excellent film that deserved the awards notice it got - if you have not seen it, it's well worth a look. The DVD though, is rather dissapointing. I'm not sure if USA Films simply doesn't have the means yet to produce major special edition DVDs, but "Traffic" is certainly a film where I'd expect more than a simple featurette and some trailers.It also suprises me that Soderberg has recently recorded a commentary for another filmmaker's picture, "Catch 22", and yet decided not to for "Traffic". Still, "Traffic" is recommended.

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