The first thing that jumps out at you is the different cinematic styles used to differentiate the stories. The stories themselves were only loosely connected.
One is set in Mexico, using a very grainy film stock that gives almost a sepia tone to the image. It's shot as if it were an inexpensive documentary. Lots of handhelds, lots of long shots, only ambient lighting. That storyline dealt mostly with the corruption in Mexican law enforcement, the impotence of straight cops, and how they might deal with it.
One is set in, I think, Philadelphia. It stars Michael Douglas as the new drug czar. There are bits and pieces of him doing his job, but mostly it's about how he learns that his teenage daughter is using drugs with her friends. I remember this one being shot with a lot of low angles and close-ups.
The final story is a lot more wide-ranging. A small-time middleman who get stung by a pair of cops. I guess this one is sort of in contrast to the Mexican cop partners. They spend most of their time watching their star witness in a safe house. The defendant is the next man above the middleman on the US side. How his wife handles him getting arrested. She's smart enough to know she's being staked out and uses that to her advantage when her kid's life is threatened by a thug from the cartel. She also approaches the cartel herself, trying to keep money coming in. This one was a bit more conventially shot.
One thing that was a bit annoying was the story of the drug czar's daughter. It's basically the same story as the old "Reefer Madness" movies made back in the '50s. "If you get on drugs it'll destroy your life." I think this is basically a problem with this sub-story being far too large to fit into one quarter of a movie. They didn't have time to be subtle about her journey into addiction. All they could do was tell the audience, "Here, it happened. Accept it."
Similarly, each of the other stories were filled with stereotypes in order to keep the audience moving along with the movie. While there are a couple of interesting but small twists, most of the story/stories was/were very shallow. It's almost like listening to Mr. Mackey on South Park saying, "Kids. Drugs are bad, m'kay."
Still, all of the various cinematography styles were very well done. What performances were there were pretty good. They just tried to pack too much in and ended up with not much worth having in there. On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Pay Per View.
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