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Sharp direction drives Soderbergh's 'Traffic'

"Traffic" does not waste any time getting to the gritty heart of the matter. Steven Soderbergh's drug drama is an epic dissection of the world of narcotics, one where the line between good and bad is almost completely obscured and one where the person next to you could be a user or a fighter - or maybe both.

Adapted and updated by Stephen Gaghan and Simon Moore from the decade-old British mini-series, "Traffic" presents a compelling tapestry of carefully interwoven stories. This allows Soderbergh to examine the business of drug trafficking up and down. While this bare-bones storytelling method lacks dramatic heft, it grounds the film with an unswerving sense of realism. He provides no exposition or resolution, leaving no doubt that this is a story about today, where tomorrow remains uncertain.

At the top of the chain under Soderbergh's kaleidoscope is Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a Cincinnati judge whom the White House appointed to be the country's new drug czar. As opposed to the color-coding Soderbergh uses to differentiate his three storylines, Wakefield's mindset is too black-and-white; he thinks that he can bring down one of the Mexican cartels simply by working with Mexican authorities.

But Wakefield is also na