Blu-ray Review: Traffic (Criterion Collection)

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Criterion Blu-ray Review TrafficThere’s a single moment in Traffic that makes me love it more than anything else. It’s the moment when Catherine Zeta Jones as Helena Ayala, housewife turned drug trafficker as a result of charges brought against her husband, is driving down the road in her SUV and barks orders at the assassin she’s hired to kill the one man that could put her husband behind bars.

Before this we saw the motherly side of Helena as she handed her young son his putter as he got into the car, asking him to not play with it in the car and to put it on the floor because “that’s where Tiger Woods keeps it.” We’ll also watch as she asks the agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) monitoring her every move to be on the look out for strangers while giving them each a fresh glass of lemonade.

But that side of Helena soon becomes desperate as she travels to Mexico, carrying with her odorless cocaine compressed to look like a child’s doll. Next she’s screaming into a cell phone, “Now get out of the car and shoot him in the head!” It’s a quote that floored me the first time I heard it and still gives me the chills to this day.

Combine the writing (Stephen Gaghan) and the acting from a massive and impressive ensemble cast with director Steven Soderbergh’s mastery of a sprawling story that touches every facet of society from the White House to the ghetto and you have a classic in my opinion and this Criterion Blu-ray edition, which is an upgrade from the original 2006 DVD edition, and you have an even deeper look at what this film has to offer, not only in terms of suspense, but filmmaking proficiency.

To begin, the transfer delivers from the gloss of agency offices to the gritty streets of Tijuana, taking full advantage of the unique color processing Soderbergh (acting as his own DP) and his team used. Mexico is blasted with a grainy and blown-out sepia appearance, while the political realm back in the States is greeted with cool blues. This Criterion release includes a step-by-step look at the film processing from what was shot to the final presentation combined with a master class in film and dialogue editing with optional (though recommended) commentary by editor Stephen Mirrione.

The features don’t end there including three separate audio commentaries featuring Soderbergh and Gaghan; producers Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien; and composer Cliff Martinez who recently scored Soderbergh’s Contagion and has earned plenty of kudos for his work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Fans of additional footage will also welcome 25 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Soderbergh and Gaghan along with 47 minutes of additional unused footage presented from multiple viewing angles.

Also included are seven trailers and TV spots, a video gallery of “trading cards depicting the U.S. Customs canine squad used to detect narcotics and other illegal substances” along with an essay by “New York Times” film critic Manohla Dargis, which you can read online right here.

Universal released a Blu-ray edition (which is $15 cheaper) of this film previously, which DVD Beaver says “may sport a bit more prevalent grain,” but considering the way the film is processed I have no idea how you can evaluate that as a good thing or bad thing. Most important, this release boasts some of the best special features you’re going to find on home video and I really wish the editing and processing featurettes were available online as they are both ideal for people interested in learning more about why and how films are put together once they move from the set to the post-production lab.

I personally love this film and held off buying Criterion’s DVD edition specifically because I wanted to own it in HD. Now that it’s here I can’t recommend it highly enough.