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"A masterful morality tale with a lot of guts."
"Full of harrowing acts of courage, heartbreak, tragedy, and even, beauty."
"A thought provoking film that teaches racial tolerance."
Crash  

Cast

Jean: Sandra Bullock
Graham: Don Cheadle
Officer Ryan: Matt Dillon
Ria: Jennifer Esposito
Flanagan: William Fichtner
Rick: Brendan Fraser
Cameron: Terrence Howard
Anthony: Ludacris
Review May 2005

"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.



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