Maybe I was too tired. Maybe I’m too dumb. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. It had to be one of those three things, because I’ve been told for several years now that Traffic is one of those ridiculously awesome vignette-ensemble-truth movies (think Babel, Crash). And when I saw it, all I could think was, “Damn! Michael Douglas has a really clear voice.”
It was a good movie. I could tell. I just couldn’t pick up on everything. I still don’t know if good or evil prevailed at the end. Was it obvious? Someone help me out here? Or was it one of those, “And so we keep living” kind of endings, where it’s intentionally ambivalent? I know I’m glad that a movie was made that depicted Topher Grace as both an aggressive teenager and a coke addict. Nice. He was coking it with a talented Julia Stiles look-alike, too, Erika Christensen. Not bad.
Dennis Quaid? Always a solid choice in my book. Plus he had a bit of chemie with ol’ CZJ (I’ll get to her in a second.) Don Cheadle? Heard he was sort of a jerk but, MAN, can the guy act. He really shows you how it’s work to act. In a good way, though. He makes it look tough because he’s so good. Also, I saw John Slattery for like one second, and he needs to be in more stuff. Thank god for Mad Men. One more celeb gush and then I’ll get to the real gush: Benicio del Toro is actually kind of hot. I also like him because I can understand his Spanish. He speaks at a normal pace. THANK YOU FOR BEING NOT CONFUSING. Oh, wait, speaking of awesome Spanish-speakers, Luis Guzman needs to be in more stuff, too. He’s hilarious, but he’s a talented actor.
Michael Douglas isn’t as great as he used to be, though. I think it’s because we’re all still shocked that he scored such a babe. Although Catherine Zeta-Jones appears quite physically normal in this film (I think she was pregnant at the time). She wasn’t stellar, though, either. Her transition from good to evil was a bit unconvincing—one minute she was afraid of losing her husband in jail, the next she’s making dolls out of packed cocaine. Too soon, I say.
The filming is beautiful, though. The hidden camera techniques? The newsy style? The gritty style? The starkness? It reeks of Steven Soderbergh, whose work I haven’t exactly raved about recently, but it’s clearly some of his best. It’s hard to believe that this film was made nearly 10 years ago, yet its relevancy is sadly appropriate. The most artful scene was also the most violent, but it speaks to his talent. Guzman’s character is killed in a car explosion, but the noise from the bomb is muted. Instead, we see a few mouthed, silent reactions from others at the scene and we hear a discordant lull, a la There Will Be Blood. It’s breathtaking. You feel like you heard the explosion even though the sound never reached your ears.
I also liked the subtle weaving of race relations in this film, especially because it dealt a lot with Mexico and America, two cultures I encounter in relative equilibrium when I go home. Racism is commonly associated with a hatred for African Americans, but Mexican Americans are disrespected, too. People mispronounce their language, insult their accents, dumb them down and force them to work for almost nothing. It’s despicable. And this movie shows what that looks like.