Steven's Sense of Snow

With the issue drama Traffic, Steven Soderbergh turns the flow of cocaine into a moving picture

Now, Orrin Hatch is not known for going one toke over the line when staking out positions on law and order. No, Traffic, for all its considerable merits, does not deliver a politically challenging message. (To picture this possibility, one need only imagine a feature version of Gary Webb's Dark Alliance, a history of CIA-backed crack dealing in 1980s Los Angeles.)

Weeping wife of Public Enemy No. 1: Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic
Weeping wife of Public Enemy No. 1: Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic

Instead, the high for viewers comes from the craft, a list of a hundred apt creative choices that make this an extraordinary picture. Here's a very short list of them. Observe the slight waddle in drug agent Benicio Del Toro's swagger, and the lacuna of doubt that envelops his eyes as his position in the Mexican police force becomes morally untenable. Follow the hide-and-seek movement of Soderbergh's handheld camera, camping out behind the couch in the middle of a showdown between our teen user and her parents--the lens's vantage point proving as elusive as the truth in this triangle of tasteful furniture and polite lies. Absorb the tinted film stocks (reminiscent of those in Soderbergh's The Underneath) that suggest the ethical shadow cast by the drug business. Note the pop-gun tenor of the automatic weapons in the movie's only proper gunfight, which strips these ordinary instruments of their banal mystique. Listen to the lisp of Luis Guzman.

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