Sandra Bullock as Jean
Don Cheadle as Graham
Matt Dillon as Officer Ryan
Jennifer Esposito as Ria
William Fichtner as Flanagan
Brendan Fraser as Rick
Terrence Howard as Cameron
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Anthony
Thandie Newton as Christine
Ryan Phillippe as Officer Hanson
Larenz Tate as Peter
Tony Danza as Fred
Keith David as Lt. Dixon
Shaun Toub as Farhad
Loretta Devine as Shaniqua
Michael Pena as Daniel
Bahar Soomekh as Dorri
Nona M. Gaye as Karen
Beautiful, intense, powerful and memorable, Crash could very well be the most important film this year.
The lives of a racially diverse group of L.A. residents are affected by prejudice and stereotypes as they come together and are torn apart by a chain of events leading back to a common carjacking. Those affected include a police detective (Don Cheadle), the wife of the district attorney (Sandra Bullock), and the carjackers themselves.
Before Million Dollar Baby, the name Paul Haggis didn’t mean very much in Hollywood, but after Crash, it’s a name that will be hard to avoid. The writer’s screenplay for the Clint Eastwood boxing drama got people talking, including critics and those responsible for handing out awards, but Crash hits closer to home, dealing with racial stereotypes and intolerance in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Who knows how a movie like this might have played before 9/11, but it certainly seems like an honorable venture to explore the reasons why people fear those who might be different from them. To do this, Haggis uses an ingenious method of interlocking stories that it never seems preachy, but shows us how racial profiling isn’t something of which the L.A. police department is guilty, although many of the stories involve the police.
Don Cheadle plays the police detective who acts as the lynchpin between the stories, introduced as he sits in his car with his Hispanic partner (Jennifer Esposito) in L.A. traffic that has been stalled by a car accident. From there, the story cuts to Anthony and Peter, two young black men with a lot on their mind, most notably their latest carjacking victims, who turn out to be the District Attorney and his wife. The third pivotal characters are a well-to-do married black couple, played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton, who experience racism firsthand, when they are detained by a corrupt police officer solely due to their skin color.
Crash is very much an L.A. movie, but the situations show the type of prejudice that many people have experienced in one form or another during their lifetime. Of course, Haggis’ script, co-written with Bobby Moresco, is quite phenomenal, a real coup in screenwriting as far as portraying realistic people and dialogue. Like Traffic and Magnolia, it’s an ensemble driven character piece but with the grittiness of Training Day or “The Shield” that keeps it from turning into a dull talking heads film.
When you have such a fine ensemble cast, it’s hard to pick favorite or standout performance, mainly since they depend so heavily on others to work. Of course, Cheadle is great as always as an everyman who sees much of the police department’s racism and corruption firsthand, despite being part of the system. It’s the perfect follow-up role to Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda even though it doesn’t let him veer too far away from his normal dramatic roles. Although it may seem that way from the ads, this is by no means a “Sandra Bullock movie”. Bullock’s part is relatively small compared to others, although her role as a detached woman who is scared by her own anger towards others allows Bullock to flex acting muscles we haven’t seen from her since A Time to Kill.
That said, Howard and Newton steal the movie as a couple whose lives are torn apart by police harassment. After their first sour experience at the hands of the L.A.P.D., they get into a far-too-real fight, because she feels he stood back and did nothing while she was violated by Matt Dillon’s racist cop. Over the course of the film, both characters have a full arc as they each have another life-changing encounter with the police. Newton’s part allows her to show great emotional range, but if Howard is half this good in the much-hailed Hustle & Flow, then he is well on his way to becoming a dramatic actor getting the same amount of respect that Cheadle is finally getting.
Dillon is also quite good as he tries to outdo Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, but still showing a very real human side. Although his character and Cheadle’s would seem like polar opposites, they both deal with ailing parents and have to make tough decisions that will greatly affect them later. Likewise, Ryan Phillipe continues to deliberately break away from his earlier teen idol roles, bringing impressive depth to the role of a rookie police officer having trouble dealing with the realities of his job. Some of the impressive lesser-known actors include Chris Bridges AKA rapper Ludacris, who offers some much needed comic relief as a philosophizing carjacker, and Michael Peña as a Hispanic locksmith suspected by everyone he encounters as being a gang member.
None of the characters are perfect, but we see enough about their lives to be able to empathize with them and try to understand why they do what they do. These lessons are learned through a series of nail-biting moments that intensify as the various characters collide with each other. The fact that many of the characters find their much-needed enlightenment at a time when the Southern California experiences a rare sprinkling of snow is probably intended as irony. Sure, a lot of this is deliberately played up for emotional value, but there’s no denying that the effect works. One can’t even fault the fact that Haggis tries to offer viable resolutions for all the character arcs leading to far too many endings, since they’re all quite good.
More than anything, the movie shows that all people, regardless of race, suffer the same fears and anxieties, and the problems facing L.A.’s populace are fairly universal.
The Bottom Line:
Paul Haggis’ genius extends from the written word to directing with this original and powerful drama that should have an effect on your view of the world and those around you.