By Owen Gleiberman
January 12, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Steven Soderbergh’s dazzling epic about the contemporary drug trade and the tragically misguided ”war” against it. The movie is as eye-opening as yesterday’s headlines, but with a tingly panoramic excitement; it tells many stories at once, and each of them is supple and layered and observant and gripping. The brilliant cast includes Michael Douglas as the new U.S. drug czar, Benicio Del Toro as a corrupt Tijuana cop, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who, as a drug baron’s wife, creates what may be the most lived-in portrayal of ruthless familial loyalty since Al Pacino in The Godfather. Watching Traffic, we’re confronted with the dirty capitalistic secret of the drug war: that when drugs are wired into a society’s central nervous system, that society will behave, collectively, in as clawing and amoral a fashion as any addict.