"It's the sense of touch. Any real city you walk
(you know?), you brush past people. People bump
into you. In, LA, nobody touches you. We're always
behind this meddling glass. I think we miss that
touch so much that we crash into each other just
so we can feel something."
"Crash," Graham Waters
If there's one movie you should see this year, "Crash" is it. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the Academy
Award winning writer of "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" relays a handful of stories, each with a different spin
on racial tolerance in today's world. A district attorney and his wife, a Persian shopkeeper, a Mexican locksmith,
an African American television director and his wife, two carjackers, a middle-aged Korean couple, a veteran and
a rookie cop. These are just some of the characters whose lives are on a collision course - some for better, some
for worse. All are connected by their hopes and dreams, their fears and sorrows, and their compassion and
courage. All are connected by their humanity. Featuring an all-star cast and some of the finest, realistic
writing you'll ever see, "Crash" dares to go where few films have gone before, openly flirting between lines of
race, color, and ethnicity. Powerful and provocative, "Crash" is a masterful morality tale with a lot of guts.
The film follows a handful of storylines, all of which involve some sort of racial or stereotypical assumption
that proves to be incorrect. There's a black cop, Graham Waters, who is working on a murder case with his partner,
a Latin American woman named Ria. He is having an affair with her, but can never seem to get her country of origin
straight. A white cop, Officer Ryan, acts vindictively toward a young black couple. The husband of which (Cameron)
is a television director, who is forced to watch Ryan sexually assault his wife, while he can do nothing but
watch. Alongside Ryan is his partner, Officer Hansen, a rookie cop who is so embarrassed by his partner's racist
ways that he attempts to break free. Meanwhile, across town, a district attorney and his wife are carjacked and
afterwards, his wife has the locks changed only to suspect that the locksmith, a young Latino man, is affiliated
with a gang and will cause them further harm.
Many of these stories collide in different ways. Waters' mother is a junkie, his brother is missing, and even
worse, he is blackmailed into a police cover up. Officer Ryan can't get medical care for his dying father,
racially insults a black woman at his HMO for taking preferential treatment, and then finds himself in a
life-threatening situation with a familiar face. Cameron returns to work, but is approached by a white producer
who tells him that one of his actors is not "black enough." Additionally, because his wife blames him for
failing to protect her, he turns suicidal and has a confrontation with Officer Hansen, who endured a certain
amount of humiliation to work alone. Then, there's the locksmith, who is actually a family man, but who falls
prey to a near fatal stereotype by a Persian shopkeeper, who himself is mistaken for an Arab. All of these
stories lie at the intersection of an urban, multi-ethnic time where humanity is blinded by racial intolerance.
Hot off the success of "Million Dollar Baby," writer Paul Haggis turns to directing, creating a sensational character drama
about the complexities of racism in modern society. It's a brilliant and insightful second act, one that connects its
stories by coincidence and happenstance. Much like a Robert Altman film, relationships and real life predicaments are
isolated at first, only to evolve and connect as the film progresses. It's a great way to tell a story because it creates
engaging drama. And it reveals a lot about us as a society, how we've become complacent in our urban lifestyles and how we deny the
lingering effects of racial problems today. A far cry from Haggis' prior works, writing and producing such
warm and witty television hits as "Diff'rent Strokes," "thirtysomething," and "L.A. Law," "Crash"
aptly demonstrates a maturity and sophistication that comes with
experience - stories that resonate on both a personal and philosophical level.
"Crash" is an intricate, urban character drama of significance. It's about real life, about truth and consequence, and
about good people who think they know who they are. At the heart of the film lies the assumption that we are all
influenced by some kind of racial stereotype or bias, oftentimes subconsciously. That we all harbor some sort of
prejudice or resentment against another group from time to time. And regardless of whether it is true or not, the
film appropriately avoids trying to prove or disprove. It merely makes a statement, without passing judgment. For,
none of the characters in the film are inherently evil or absolutely racist. They are all, however, equally tested in
their beliefs and values. And they use racism or racial epithets as a mechanism for self defense, as justification for
acting abnormally, because they are afraid or insecure, or to intentionally cause another anguish. The end result of
which, is a story full of compelling issues and situations, issues of harrowing acts of courage, heartbreak, tragedy,
and even, beauty.
Says Jean, "I am angry all the time and I don't know why." The characters and the words they use in the
film are so brutal, so honest, and yet so commonplace, that you think nothing of it. In fact, you feel as
though you know each and every character in spite of their limited screen time. Recognizable or not, this
is a sign of great writing. With an ear for every day dialogue and little concern for inappropriateness,
Paul Haggis creates realistic characters that act and say what they feel. And there is no question as to
what the characters are thinking because they all vocalize it. At the forefront is Anthony, who rambles on
and on about suggestive discrimination, body language, and country music. Haggis, of course, makes this
look all too easy.
Great writing always attracts great talent. And this film is no different, relying on an A-list cast to perform some
very challenging duties - Sandra Bullock, surprisingly serious and fearful; Cheadle, stoic and guilt ridden; Newton,
humiliated and heartbroken; and Ludacris, outspoken and full of potential. However, the most compelling performances
were those played by Matt Dillon and Terrence Howard. As Officer Ryan, Dillon single handedly earns intense disfavor
when he abuses his authority as a police officer, physically assaulting a young black couple at a routine traffic stop
and then verbally insulting an HMO worker with racial slurs. The brilliance of this performance is how he flips our
emotion into one of compassion. Through subtle facial expressions, he reveals his true self, and ultimately, through
his actions, he redeems himself. Not to mention, offering one of the most poignant lines, warning: "You think you
know who you are?(but) you have no idea."
Equally compelling is the transformation of Cameron, who experiences humiliation, plans to self-destruct, and then
unexpectedly achieves enlightenment. Terrence Howard is incredible in this role, the emotional crackle in his voice
in response to his wife's attacks: "What did you want me to do? Get us both shot?" And later, his confident rage
masks a hidden and terrifying fear at a police stand off. "I didn't ask for your help, did I?" Howard's character is
placed in the most uncompromising of positions and watching him suffer endlessly only to become a better person, is one
of the most humbling and uplifting experiences in the entire movie.
"Crash" is a thought provoking film that teaches racial tolerance through a series of stories where assumptive
and presumptuous behaviors are bad examples. The effects are devastating, as lives are lost or nearly lost,
relationships are broken and put back together, and careers are derailed or destroyed. And yet, from the
bad, good can still be found - confidence is restored, friendships are made, and understandings are achieved.
But do we have to suffer in order for good to come about? Demonstrating a knack for smart dialogue and
emotional drama, Paul Haggis once again jumps into a controversial subject matter without a care for political
correctness. And once again, the results are genuinely real and effective. While there are no easy answers
to issues of race and prejudice, there is always hope. And for that, admitting and recognizing that a problem
exists is a monumental first step toward coming together.