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Throughout the year 2000 I saw many great movies some comedic, some dramatic. However at the end of the year a film entitled Traffic began getting massive press and media coverage. The directors name was Steven Soderbergh would had a big hit earlier in the year with Erin Brockovich a film that I enjoyed very much especially the direction.  So never being one to not succumb to hype and being a reviewer I looked forward to Traffic.   The film was released in New York and Los Angeles on December 27th 2000 allowing it to qualify for the 2000 Academy Awards. Sadly I'm not located in either of those major cities so I had to wait for the wider release to happen on January 5th 2001.  While it didn't live up to my initial hype it was an excellent movie that only got better the second time I viewed. Now on May 29th USA Films brings Traffic to DVD.

Traffic
Movie
Traffic like 1999's Magnolia is a collection of stories about individuals that are linked together only through circumstance. There are 3 primary stories and many more smaller stories told within them. A Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro)  and his partner Manolo find themselves in the middle of the war against drugs and corruption within the complicated Mexican police system. An Ohio judge Robert Wakefield (Micheal Douglas) who has recently been appointed to be the nations new drug czar and finally a Californian house wife Helen Ayala (Catherine Zeta Jones) who finds out her husband isn't in the business she thought he was.

The film opens deep in the desert of Mexico with two Mexican police officers Javier Rodriguez and Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) sitting in their car awaiting a drug deal to go down.  The deal goes down and they seize a truck load of cocaine. They are stopped as they drive through the desert and relieved of their duties by General Salazar (Tomas Milian) the head enforcer in the Mexican drug trade.  Soon Javier is approached to join General Salazar's task force to try and take down the Obergon Brothers one of two major drug cartels in Mexico.

Meanwhile an Ohio judge Robert Wakefield has recently been appointed to the office of national drug control policy and is now the nation's new drug czar who while away in Washington finds out his own daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen)  has a formed a heavy addiction to cocaine. He struggles to keep both his family life and new job under control as he tries to find the best way to combat the war on drugs both in the US and at home. 

In San Diego, a rich housewife's life is thrown into shambles when the DEA bust her husband as the result of a plea bargain by a lower level employee.  Now she finds herself with no money, no support from friends and unable to continue to live the high life she has come accustomed to. When her son is threatened to become the victim of a kidnapping by people who her husband owes funds to she visits her husband in jail to see if she can learn the business and get them back out of the red.  

n addition to these 3 main storylines we have many additional smaller stories told within the main ones. We see how the DEA works to capture the key witness in their case against Carl Ayala. Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle who seem to always be paired together play a couple of hard working DEA agents who've always wanted to bust the top people "The White People". We also see the story of Frankie Flores a Mexican hit man and gunrunner for the Obergon brothers cartel. We also see a group of rich suburban high school kids who are so bored and have no need for jobs that they spend all their spare time doing cocaine.

One of the best things about the film Traffic are it's performances. Director/Cinematographer Steven Soderbergh has once again assembled an extremely talented cast. Almost everyone in this movie turns their characters into more then just a character and into real people. Micheal Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones turn in some of their best work in recent years as parents who are only trying to do what's best for their kids. Benicio Del Toro who was given an Academy Award for his performance as Javier is excellent here, he truly did deserve his award as this is one of the best performances I've seen in a film in a long time. Also worth noting is the supporting cast who give great performances in smaller roles. Miguel Ferrer plays a mid level drug dealer whose greed ends up costing him his freedom. Topher Grace (Eric Forman - That 70's Show) plays Caroline's boyfriend who gives one of the best supporting performances as Seth the rich kids connection to drugs who explains later to her father about the supply and demand aspect of the drug trade.

The movie is based upon a UK miniseries entitled Traffik which will be released to DVD on June 26th. Director Soderbergh who received the best director prize at the Academy Awards has changed the story somewhat but still presents an interesting look at the many levels of the drug war. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan who previously work includes episodes of The Practice and NYPD Blue has come up with an excellent script and without him the film wouldn't have nearly been as good. His writing here is excellent and I look forward to other projects involving him in the future. 

Traffic is an important film to watch, it may not be of interest to everyone as it's not action packed by any means. But for those who love a good story this film delivers. It gives us the message that the war on drugs can never be fully won but a victory at home in our own families is a victory we can achieve.

Traffic
Video
USA Films gives us Traffic in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that accurately recreates the look and feel of it's theatrical presentation. Traffic is a film with a very unique and stylized look to it.

Each of the three separate stories that make up Traffic are unique in how they look visually. The scenes that take place in Mexico are very washed out in golden and dusty brown tones taking the viewer into the hot, dry and barren land of Mexico. The scenes that take place involving Micheal Dougla's character have a blue tint and hue to them as if everything was shot using a filtered blue gel. Lastly the scenes in Southern California have a bright vibrant palette of colors more akin to real life.

The transfer is a good one but is not without some minor problems, some softness and grain is apparent in the scenes in Mexico. Detail and color vary between the 3 stories but are generally excellent with Mexico and Washington having a reduced more subdued palette compared to the scenes in California. 

Traffic is a unique film visually and by employing these different techniques and color schemes some of the public may believe there is something wrong with the transfer. While Warner Brothers put a disclaimer message on their Three Kings DVD explaining the unique style in which the movie was shot, USA films haven't included one here. I'm all for educating the public when it comes to these things because it means that they will have more information and won't go around telling everyone not to buy the disc because of how it looks. 

It should also be noted that Traffic is a film that is partially subtitled as some of the scenes taking place in Mexico are in Spanish.  USA Films has given us a couple options here on the disc. You can choose to watch the film as it was seen in theaters with Spanish subtitles or you can watch the entire film with French subtitles. Sadly by giving us these options they subtitles are of the player generated kind and not burned onto the film. Subtitles appear in a white sometimes blocky font over the bottom of the 1.85:1 frame. Since the majority of subtitle usage occurs over the washed out golden scenes in Mexico, occasionally the titles can get hard to read. A small but minor flaw that takes away from the rest of this excellent transfer.

Traffic wasn't going to be an easy film to transfer to DVD while still maintaining the style and look of the film. USA Films has managed to recreate the experience very well and has left the grain and muted palettes of two of the three stories intact.  Stellar work here, only suffering due to the computer generated subtitles.

Audio
For Traffic USA Films has given us the following choices as outlined on the audio options menu

5.1 Mix - The same 5.1 Mix as heard in theaters
2.0 Mix - A 2 track mix optimized for late-night/low level listening; utilize Pro Logic decoding if available.

When I originally saw Traffic earlier this year I don't recall the sound sounding anything too spectacular and for the most part the DVD recreates what I heard in theaters.  

Traffic is not an aggressive movie audio wise as most of the movie is dialogue driven, when the story moves into a more action packed sequence the sound opens up and it's presence is felt. Gun shots sound incredibly real and the score fills the room nicely. 

Dialogue is good for the most part but sometimes suffers from being either a bit hard to make out to a bit on the loud side. I think most of this can be attributed to how Traffic was filmed and probably a lack of ADR usage. I'm all for using the original sound recordings that were taken on the day of the shoot and therefore despite the odd level difference the dialogue is still presented well as I didn't have to change the level of my center channel at all.

Traffic isn't really a very loud movie but it does use the LFE channel fairly well and in a creative way. While a bomb explosion doesn't rock the foundation the movie still has a lot of boom and when it booms it really booms. In one instance the bass was so intense I thought people were walking on the floor upstairs.

While not being anything to write home about the audio for Traffic fits the film and is very good for the type of mix it is. 

Traffic
Extras
When Traffic was announced for release on DVD one of the things I noticed was a lack of extras. In this day and age when movies such as Bounce and the upcoming Meet Joe Black reissue receive double disc treatment a one disc release of one of last years most critically acclaimed features seems a little disappointing. A film with as much commercial success as this one and such an interesting subject matter could give birth to a wealth of interesting special features. Like another of last years great movies Almost Famous we are left without a commentary track. While Cameron Crowe promises us a special edition of 'Famous is in the works and will feature a commentary track as well as a longer cut of the film, one can only hope that a more complete edition of Traffic is forthcoming perhaps with even a couple commentaries.

So what do we have here.

First up we have 3 Trailers, the US teaser and US trailer and the German trailer. All are presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and DD 2.0 sound. In addition to this we have 5 US TV spots which are only selectable as a group and play one right after another.

Next up we have a 20 minute promotional featurette entitled "Inside Traffic" that doesn't really live up to it's title. 

Rounding out the extras on the disc we have a photo gallery most of which can be found on various websites. I'm a tad disappointed with the number and quality of the extras on this disc and was hoping for a lot more. 

Traffic was one of the best motion pictures to come out of Hollywood last year and was rightfully nominated for the best picture. Of the 5 nominated pictures it deserved to win as only Almost Famous rated higher on my list of 2000 releases. The only area of this disc that disappoints is the extras. Hopefully people will still pick this disc up based on the movie.


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