A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)


Traffic hasn't held up as well as it might have over the past 15 years, and one reason for that is a bit ironic: The movie was based on a British miniseries, and since the film's debut its central theme, the paralysis of politicians and police in trying to stop the drug trade, and its multiple-track storytelling have been handled more brilliantly by an American miniseries, The Wire (2002-08). It's even possible that the film demonstrates the limits faced by movies as opposed to long-form television in handling stories of complexity and sweep. (Imagine, for example, Game of Thrones or Mad Men or Breaking Bad stuffed into the confines of a two-or-three-hour movie.) Traffic still holds your interest, of course, thanks to some brilliant performances, especially the Oscar-winning one by Benicio Del Toro, as well as the ones by Don Cheadle and Catherine Zeta-Jones. (It's also fun to spot Viola Davis making a solid impression in a tiny part as a social worker.) And Soderbergh's direction deservedly won the Oscar, along with Steven Gaghan's screenplay and Stephen Mirrione's film editing. I would, however, fault Gaghan for the sentimental and melodramatic resolution to the story centering on Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield, the newly appointed czar of the War on Drugs: It stretches credulity to have Wakefield break down in the middle of his acceptance speech and abandon his post, and the scene in which Wakefield and his wife (Amy Irving) beamingly support their drug-addicted daughter (Erika Christensen) at a twelve-step-program meeting is pure schmaltz. The film also pulls its punches a bit where the wasteful War on Drugs crusade is concerned, even to the point of featuring cameos by real-life politicians William Weld (a Reagan-administration appointee who supervised the Drug Enforcement Administration) and Senators Barbara Boxer, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, and a surprisingly young-looking Harry Reid as themselves.