A modern day look at America's war on drugs told through four separate stories that are connected in one way or another. A conservative judge who's just been appointed as the US drug czar learns that his teenage honor student daughter is a drug addict. A beautiful trophy wife struggles to save her wealthy husband's drug business, while two DEA agents protect a witness with inside knowledge of the spouse's business. In Mexico, a slightly corrupt, yet dedicated cop struggles with his conscience when he learns that his new boss may not be the anti-drug official he made himself out to be. Written by
Technically great, acting's great, the whole damn thing's great
It certainly has been a good 12 months for director Stephen Soderbergh, hasn't it? Erin Brockovich, probably the most underrated film of last year, eventually got the recognition Soderbergh, Roberts +Co deserved, as did this film, a chilling account of drug trafficking in North and Central America. As seen in 'Erin Brockovich', Soderbergh often deals with people under immense pressure, and this is quite evident here, telling the story of a new US drug control officer (Michael Douglas) whose daughter is rapidly becoming a drug addict (Erika Christensen). It also shows us the struggles of a drug trafficker's society wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose husband is facing a conviction, and also that of a cop accused of corruption. The direction is superb throughout, speaking in tones, very believable tones, and contrasting atmospheres. The portrayal of Mexico, as a behind-the-scenes nightmare world of seediness, humidity (you can almost FEEL the heat) and as a place where one murder matters not, is handled excellently, Soderbergh quite cleverly using sepiatones to convey the mood. This high standard, which is often difficult to maintain in a movie of its length (2 ½ hours) is maintained, and while at times it borders on arty, it is done thoughtfully, incisively and effectively, the scenes of importance delivered in tense, muted tones. Javier Rodriguez's (Benicio Del Toro) character and personality is both strong and incredibly well-acted - the quiet, thick skinned yet razor-sharp mind suiting his environment perfectly, and his acting is often crucial to the moods set in the film, for example in creating the tense, unearthly atmosphere of Mexico. This quiet confidence is also a key part of one of the film's many underlying messages, namely a study in resourcefulness and where it gets us, particularly in Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, a trophy wife of a drug trafficker who is under arrest. Resourceful as she is, it takes her down the darkest and lowest moral alleyways, and this can be compared to 'Erin Brockovich', where another stressed woman used a different kind of soul and fighting spirit to get results. This film also deals with family life, and the movie cliché of 'daddy never being around' is handled exceptionally well. This time the daddy is the newly-instated drugs officer (Michael Douglas) fighting drugs on two fronts: the Mexican Border and his own home, as he struggles to keep his adolescent daughter on the straight and narrow. The characters are all strong and well acted, I can't put my finger on a single bad performance, but Benicio Del Toro is by far the best on show and his Oscar was well deserved. Michael Douglas proves again that he's a class act, as does Catherine Zeta-Jones and strength in depth is clear all round. All in all, then, a great film, combining good acting, clever psychological undertones and classy direction, which particularly stands out. Combining an ability to keep us interested with the snappy, modern style which he has brought to the movies today - this film is a gripping account and a very comprehensive display of Soderbergh's impressive arsenal of film knowledge, understanding and talent.
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