Filmmakers get into trouble when they start mistaking profundity for drama because it almost always comes around and bites them in the can. In Steven Soderbergh's case, he decided to make a supposedly profound social statement about the drug war and wrap it in a nice little package disguised as a dramatic film. Turns out, the film is neither profound nor dramatic.
The film is four separate stories that sort of intertwine and sort of don't. There's the Mexican police officer, Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro), who works near the border with his fellow policeman, Manolo (Tomas Milian). There's a U.S. Ohio State Supreme Court Justice, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), who becomes drug czar at exactly the same time his daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen) gets hooked on narcotics. There are DEA agents Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) who work in and around San Diego and bust a trafficker, Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer). Finally, there's Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the pregnant wife of a suspected drug baron, Ayala (Steven Bauer). When he's arrested, she's exposed to the source of their wealth and turns to their attorney, Arnie (Dennis Quaid) for help.
Why is this film worth making? Who didn't realize that history had already deemed the drug war a fiasco? Is there drama to be found in reiterating an obvious point? Not if this movie is any indication. First off, having the daughter of the drug czar become an addict and start whoring herself for drug money isn't dramatic; it's contrived. In the end, Wakefield sits in therapy with his daughter and says he's listening, a line that resonates so loud in the film Soderbergh could have run down the aisle playing the bongos and I would have missed him. And is Soderbergh trying to make me believe that Helena isn't aware of her husband's career? Oh, poor Helena. That doesn't make her sympathetic, it makes her willingly stupid, which explains how she got involved with Ayala in the first place. Then there are the police officers and the agents on each side of the border -- trying to make a difference, but coming to the realization that that's impossible.
Here's a little message for the dreamers of the world: Life is mundane and no matter how hard you work or how much ass you kiss, there's a really good chance that all you're ever going to be is what you are now. The drug war isn't out of the ordinary; it's a reflection of life itself. Many, many people try hard and never get anywhere. In fact, despite what Oprah may say, their lives get worse. Just about everybody in the film is kidding themselves, which is what most people do in life. Frankly, I don't need to be reminded about any of it.
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