Stopping Traffic in the Coliseum

  Stopping Traffic in the Coliseum

Posted by FoM on March 26, 2001 at 07:15:15 PT
By Robert A. George 
Source: National Review 

It's always risky figuring out the "meaning" behind Academy Award winners. Two years ago, when it looked like Saving Private Ryan was going to sweep everything, there were premature assessments that this meant Hollywood was willing to turn away from its knee-jerk liberal moral relativism and champion American heroism. But then, there was the split decision: Ryan director Steven Spielberg won Best Director, but Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture. What were we supposed to think? 
That it takes one man to conceptualize what war can do to both family and nation — but love is the essential spark for the creative force? That seemed to be Hollywood's message in 1999. There was a similar split decision this year. Fortunately for this writer, he had seen both movies (as well as parts of Erin Brockovich). Once again, a guy named Steven — Soderbergh, this time — won as Best Director, for Traffic. This was a significant achievement since he was competing against, among others, himself for directing Brockovich. Oscar®-watchers had predicted that the Soderbergh vote would split and he would be left out in the cold. (By the way, don't you get the feeling that Julia Roberts's recent temper tantrum about George W. Bush was done with a mind to cinch her Best Actress win? Starring in a movie of a "brave" heroine defeating evil corporate interests who were "poisoning" local residents was not enough. Gotta take on the evil Republican administration.) He wasn't but the big prize nonetheless went to Gladiator. It wouldn't exactly be accurate to say that the dichotomy this time was as simple as "love" vs. "war." In a real sense, both movies were about wars of different types. Who can truly say which is the most "personal"? After all Russell Crowe's Maximus loses his entire family and attempts to put his life back together — as well as Rome. He only partly succeeds. Michael Douglas is not exactly the "star" of Traffic — it is a director and script-driven movie. But, the broader "war" comes into U.S. drug czar Robert Wakefield's home in a very cathartic manner. His ultimate sacrifice may not be as final as Maximus's, but it is life shattering nonetheless. Of the two big movies, Traffic was the most compelling for this writer personally. In recent months, my own feelings on the drug war now amount to "skepticism." But it is a skepticism spread on all sides. The argument that the drug war has been a failure and exacted too great a price on the nation's civil liberties is strong. On the other hand, this columnist has also seen the damage that legal substances and activities have done (alcohol and gambling, to name two). Is it in society's best interests to allow even more substances into the "market"? Or are there way too many variables to take such a risk? Thus I find myself skeptical of the claims of both the doves and the hawks in the war on drugs. Traffic succeeds in one sense by not completely stacking the deck against the warriors. This is most definitely not a pro-drugs movie. However, it does suffer from a typical Hollywood blemish. Kudos go to conservative writer Danielle Crittenden for pointing this out: Even in movies where there is objectively an interesting overall storyline and a provocative idea, anti-conservative or "family values" biases manage to creep in. Crittenden wonders, why is it always the conservative that has to come across as a hypocrite in Hollywood films? In last year's Best Picture winner, American Beauty, the anti-gay, anti-drug, multiple gun-owner neighbor is discovered to have a dark "other side." In Traffic, the U.S. drug czar is seen in one of the opening scenes as a hard-core anti-drug moralist. He's also inherently clueless that his daughter is getting strung out on various drugs. Finally, it's also clear that there is a basic equivalence made between illegal drugs and legal substances such as alcohol ("to take the edge off," Douglas's character says in an argument with his wife). Thus does the conservative/"family values" hypocrite or apostate has become a cliché in Hollywood films. Given that, considering the relative strengths of Traffic and Gladiator, two good movies, perhaps the awards were doled out appropriately. Perhaps, the moral told in Gladiator is more timeless than the ambiguous politics of Traffic. Make no mistake, Traffic is a political movie and a good one. It can be termed accurately an anti-drug, anti-war on drugs film. But it is more part of this particular time, and concerned with contemporary politics. The values that Gladiator champions, however — loyalty, patriotism, family, courage, manhood — are eternal. Given the moral relativism of contemporary time (which can be shrewdly alluded to as similar to Rome's), it's good for those values to be celebrated in the current era. Of course, Hollywood being what it is, one must avoid over-praising. Really, when all is said and done, you know that's exactly what those celebrities want. Part of being a celebrity is being lauded for always doing the right thing. Which is one reason why Bill Clinton should replace Jack Valenti as head of the Motion Pictures Association of America. They were made for one another. But that's another story. Note: Making sense of the Oscars.Mr. George is an editorial page writer for the New York Post.Source: National Review (US) Author: Robert A. GeorgePublished: March 26, 2001Address: 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Copyright: 2001 National Review Email: letters Website: Forum: Articles & Web Site:Traffic Official Web Site Soderbergh Wins Best Director Oscar Important Movie of The Year Articles - Traffic The Movie 

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