Steven Soderbergh drugs-war drama. Three stories interweave: Benicio Del Toro plays a Mexican narcotics cop, wise against the corruption but unable to do much to stop it. Soderbergh bleaches the colour with yellow filters, exaggerating Mexico's arrid chaos. The blue filter sanitizes the story of a high-powered judge played by Michael Douglas who gets promoted to Washington as the national drugs tzar, but cannot keep his own private school daughter (Erika Christensen) clean. The third thread centres on Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is the wife of a well-respected businessman who traffics drugs throughout California. Two cartels are battling for supremacy and it all gets rather messy. The characters cross paths rather like Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, brushing shoulders, almost, but unknowingly tangled in the same web. Full of movie-makers' coincidence, but a slick way to interlink the stories, such as the pan across the US-Mexico border from a car in which Del Toro is being hidden in the boot and taken back home; to Zeta-Jones heading back the other way in her white dirty money people-carrier, having done some dodgy business in Mexico.
The best characters are played by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman, two undercover narcotics agents who snoop on Zeta-Jones from a surveillance van after her hubby is arrested by the DEA. They have the wittiest banter and lighten what would otherwise be a pretty heavy film:
Cheadle: "I lost my virginity when I was 16 on a beach just like that."
Guzman: "Cool, man. He treat you good?"
Maybe it's just my naivity, but the behaviour of the drug tzar's daughter and her rich-kid buddies seems melodramatic to me. Their scenes feel like they've been written by someone who only imagines what these crazy kids get up to. They don't have the gritty realism of Larry Clark's Kids (1995), for example. They're really annoying. It's all a bit too much: "Ooh, look what these drugs are doing to our children! Look how their parents neglect them." All very post-Columbine.
Nugget: as can happen with these critically acclaimed movies, on a second viewing they sometimes don't live up to your memory of them.