Year: 2000
Production Co: Bedford Falls productions
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Stephen Gaghan/Simon Moore
Cast: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Miguel Ferrer, Eriak Christensen, Dennis Quaid, Amy Irving, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek

A close cousin to Syriana in theme, aesthetic approach and the creative force behind each film, this steady-handed but searing account of the state of the drug war in contemporary America is worth a thousand clunky government anti-drug ads.

Soderbergh wields a dispassionate camera, at times just hovering in the room where the action is taking place, such as the understated fact finding meeting where US anti-drug czar Wakefield (Douglas) is meeting with Senators and Congresspeople to see what they think should be done (most of them played by real politicians.

And Stephen Gaghan plays the same clever trick here that he did in his later comment on the state of oil, politics and money in Syriana. We're not altogether sure what's going on when it comes to the whole picture, and neither is anyone mired in it. This is a picture made up of wildly differing points of view and different interests that create a huge, dangerous, shifting beast it's impossible to get a handle on - hence the West's many failed attempts to stamp drugs out.

Wakefield is promoted to the big chair by the President, soon finding his own family unravelling when he learns his own daughter's a drug addict. It's a perfect metaphor for America itself, throwing its weight around throughout the world to impose its idea of acceptable behaviour on everyone else while its own moral core burns out of control.

At the same time, a well-to-do wife (Zeta Jones) who's had nothing to do with her husband's drug business but enjoyed the spoils finds herself running it when he's indicted and put away. And south of the border, an honest cop (Del Toro) finds himself struggling for morality and justice amongst not just corrupt colleagues that go all the way up but a system that's itself rotting from the inside out.

The dialogue is snappy and savvy, often too much so for you to follow, but Gaghan's script perfectly captures the mood and machinations of a world we thankfully only see the surface of at the odd party, but on which much of society teeters precariously (or explodes violently as it often does in places like Mexico or Columbia).

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