HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Traffik With A 'c' Cuts Its Potential Impact
Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jan 2001
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.
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Author: Tom Elsworthy

TRAFFIK WITH A 'C' CUTS ITS POTENTIAL IMPACT

Director Steven Soderbergh has got the American film community higher than 
a teenage drug addict with a pocket full of cash. Already he has plucked 
best film honours from the New York Film Critics for Traffic, his 
resonating adaptation of the 11-year-old celebrated BBC miniseries on drug 
policy run amok called Traffik.

Soderbergh's engaging film leads all others with five Golden Globe 
nominations. His earlier film, Erin Brockovich - in which Julia Roberts 
portrays a defiant provocateur who takes on big business suits in skimpy 
minis and wins - is also gaining honours. There's even talk that the 
Louisiana native son who won Cannes's prestigious Palme d'Or for sex, lies 
and videotape in '89 when he was only 26 might be nominated twice for film 
or director when Oscar picks its final five on Feb. 13.

Here is a guy getting high on attention. A realist with a documentarian's 
feel for drama, Soderbergh puts his audiences in situations where they 
can't help but feel the shift in nuances.

And while his drug epic pushes a lot of the same buttons as the footage 
that inspired it, in the end it regrettably backpedals away from spiking 
the same critical vein that Traffik did. This means that Bill Patterson in 
the British Broadcasting Corporation miniseries ended up saying a lot more 
about doomed drug policy than his American counterpart played by Michael 
Douglas utters in Traffic.

At the end of the BBC mini, viewers were ready to accept tough talk on why 
drug enforcement policies fail. Indeed, how they can't work. In the 
American movie, Douglas cuts his stuff with so much posturing that the 
truth becomes a casualty. The main political punch is pulled.

Perhaps Soderbergh should have watched The Ugly American, the Stewart Stern 
screenplay of William Lederer's book on why American foreign policy in 
South East Asia failed. The 1963 film ended with the American ambassador 
(Marlon Brando) pleading on an U.S. TV news for Americans to challenge 
these flawed policies. Granted, they might turn the news off like they did 
on Brando, but the message would still hit home harder, right?

That said, Soderbergh's film does score powerfully when it is focused on 
the non-political side of the drug issue. The addiction scenes with teens 
and his characterization of life within the various strata of the drug 
trade in Mexico are lessons not soon lost on any attentive audience.

Filming the dubbed Mexican scenes in video and in brown duo-tone increases 
the viewers' absorption of the grainiest details. No gratuitous colour to 
distract us here, no high-resolution images to sidetrack us from 
concentrating on what is really going on. Highly effective stuff.

A frailty in Soderbergh's Traffic is that sometimes his film asks viewers 
to be too naive. In particular the scenes grate where actress Catherine 
Zeta-Jones makes the required but unbelievable transformation from innocent 
socialite to serious drug player. Nothing wrong with her performance, but 
her character shift lacks credibility.

And why if you are going to have dogs sniff a courtroom where the star 
witness is about to testify, would you allow a parking lot into which 
anyone can enter and take a shot at the prosecution's only chance to win?

These are mistakes that could have been avoided. They were not made in the 
British miniseries. Still, while they mar, they can not derail the impact 
of Soderbergh's film.

Interestingly, Soderberg says about drug policy: "Legalization is not going 
to happen - not in our lifetime - for a whole variety of political reasons. 
It would be a violation of every international trade agreement that we have."
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