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(18) 147 mins * t t *

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is an ambitious, multi-layered epic drama that exposes the confusion, hypocrisy and sheer futility of America's war on drugs. Based on the acclaimed 1989 Channel 4 series Traffik, the film interweaves three storylines that show how the drug trade touches and corrupts every level of society on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

In Tijuana, decent cop Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro in his best role since The Usual Suspects) strives to preserve his integrity and not end up a corpse - as he and his partner become drawn into a Mexican general's bid to smash a leading drug cartel. In the US, Michael Douglas' conservative Ohio judge Robert Wakefield, the country's newly appointed new drug czar, grapples with his impossible brief while under his nose, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) slides into cocaine and heroin addiction. And in a well-heeled suburb of San Diego, society wife Helena Ayala (an impressive, heavily pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones) gets a rude awakening to the source of her family's riches when her drug baron husband (Steven Bauer) is busted by DEA agents.

Using different film stocks and techniques, Soderbergh provides each of these storylines with a distinct look. He gives the Mexican scenes 3 grainy, desaturated, almost sepia look; a blue filter yields a cooler feel for the Mid- West and Washington; while there are warmer tones for the wealth and privilege of San Diego. The strategy informs the mood of each sequence and helps orient the viewer instantly.

All three strands are linked, meanwhile, by Soderbergh’s persistent use of hand-held cameras, which gives the film an air of documentary authenticity

Sex, violence, bad language: bloody simple

THRILLER Beautiful Creatures


release of the handful of

Ambitious, multi-layered, authentic, gripping

and gripping immediacy; Soderbergh doubled-up as the movie's director of photography under the pseudonym Peter Andrews. A few scenes, it has to be said, are melodramatic and implausible, but for the most part, the verité-style disguises any dramatic shortcomings. Intelligent and provocative, Traffic avoids sermonising, but in scene after scene, the message gets through. The US government spends $19 billion a year fighting the drug trade, a sum that is dwarfed by the resources available to the suppliers of the country’s $200 billion-a— year habit. Until society starts treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, the film implies, the war on drugs will be the most pointless attempt to stem the tide since Canute sat upon a beach. (Jason Best) I General release from Fri 26 Jan.

McMinn (Maurice Roeves), Despite being a tough cookie Dorothy (Susan Lynch) has a hard time handling smack-happy (again, in more ways than one) bOyfriend Tony (lain Glen). But when tempers spiral out of control, someone gets hurt. In fact, some man gets dead, at which pomt Petula and Dorothy make like Thelma and LOUise and take off With blood on their hands and money in their pockets. However, they don't have a plan, and various VICIOUS characters, including a bent cop (Just in the one way), are hot on their sexy tails (which gives the film an unpleasant mysoginistic tone).

You’ll recognise the gallows humour from a preVious Macdonald production (Shallow Grave), and teIeVision director

(18) 87 mins 1* t at

Beautiful Creatures couldn’t arrive at a more critical time. This dark thriller With comic moments is the first film from Andrew ’Trainspotting' Mcdonald and Duncan 'Four Weddings’ Kenworthy’s production outfit DNA Films, one of the three film franchises to benefit from Lottery funding some years back. Those industry hopefuls have done little to assuage the Ongomg row over the erratic fortunes of British film. In fact, this is only the

28 THE “ST 18 Jan—l Feb 2001

commercral proiects DNA promised would have reached the UK's Cinemas by now (not that their colleagues have done much better). You can see What’s riding on Beautiful Creatures.

Donald, a respected playwright who has yet to hit his mark in film, has crafted an edgy, playful tale concerning two gorgeous women who are hit upon (in more ways than one) by various brutal men. Dizzy Marilyn Monroe look-a-like Petula (Rachel Weisz) is on the run from the mob, embodied in the terrifying Ronnie

Bill Eagles provrdes his boss With the requiSite commerCial gloss: slick Visuals and an upbeat soundtrack. Donald’s script anchors the film with some cracking dialogue and thrilling set pieces, which the impressive cast make the best of. However (yep, there’s a qualification), it Just doesn’t come together to be a truly great modern film n0ir such as Blood Simple, a film that Beautiful Creatures would dearly love to be. (Miles Fielder)

I General release from Fri 79 Jan. See Front/ines.


Pay It Forward (12) 123 mins t M

New age nerds call it ’random acts of kindness American novelist Catherine Ryan Hyde coined another term for IOVing thy neighbour 'paying it forward’ essentially the same thing, but Orchestrated Within a structure Similar to a chain letter Hollywood leapt upon this 'high concept' (one that can be explained in a single sentence), and has dOused it in syrupy sentiment

This ’heartwarming' drama begins With an incongruous crash, hang, wallop cops and robbers car chase As the cops speed after the criminals a newspaper reporter is left standing in the street, his car totalled during the high speed escape An old man appears, presents the hack With the keys to his own, expensive automobile and walks away The reporter is gobsmacked. So he investigates, working backwards through Similar random acts, followmg one kind soul to another until he finds the scheme's originator, a young school kid in Las Vegas, Trevor McKinney (The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment)

This gives nothing away, because as this narrative strand works backwards, in a neat storytelling trick a second, Trevor's, moves forward 80 from the outset we see that Trevor’s life isn't an easy one. His mother Arlene (Helen Hunt) is an alcoholic go-go bar waitress who barely covers the rent on their trailer park home. Trevor’s abusive father (Jon Bon low) is absent, but in new teacher Mr Simonet (KeVin Spacey), the boy finds a surrogate parent Simonet’s inspiring in the classroom though he proves to be a cynic With emotional problems, which may be related to old but terrible facial scarring and it's a class proiect he sets that prompts Trevor to conceive 'pay it forward'.

Director and FR. veteran Mimi Leder handles the storytelling confidently and allows her stars to shine (and there’s strong support from James CaViezel and Angie ’Po/ice Woman' Dickinson as a couple of down-and-outs who benefit from Trevor's initiative) However, there’s a horrible sense that this sentimental film was conceived and executed With Oscars in mind. The closmg scene Will have you refilling your popcorn box With the contents of your stomach. (Miles Fielder)

I General release from Fri 26 Jan,

Carefully engineered heartwarming drama


* it t 1r * Unmissable is air air it Very 00d 5 t t * Wort a shot t t Below average * You’ve been warned j