Saturday, September 17, 2005
Movie Review: "Crash"
Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by Paul Haggis
As America is often referred to as a melting pot, "Crash" examines the modern-day prejudices, racism and communication breakdowns that can occur when so many diverse cultures and backgrounds come together.
With a good script and even better cast on hand, the film unfolds over a 36-hour period, tracking the interweaving stories of more than a dozen people living in Los Angeles. Co-written and directed by Paul Haggis, who wrote the Oscar-winning script of "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" is remarkably well-paced for a first time director. Juggling multiple storylines while still maintaining the viewer's interest is no easy task, but Haggis is no doubt helped by the fact that these characters act and sound real. Some are angry, some are scared, and most are unhappy – either with the direction their life is heading or with society as a whole.
District Attorney Rick Cameron (Brendan Fraser) and wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) fall victim to a carjacking, with each handling the incident in quite different ways. Rick worries how this could impact his career, while Jean pushes everyone away as she is consumed by anger and fear.
Along with his Latina partner (Jennifer Esposito), police detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) investigates a potentially racially-motivated killing. Waters runs into some interference during the investigation, which forces him into an ethical dilemma, involving his troublesome younger brother (Larenz Tate).
A successful TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) are pulled over by a LAPD officer Jack Ryan (Matt Dillon) leading to the wife being groped by Ryan, while her husband and Ryan's partner (Ryan Phillippe) helplessly watch. Again, those impacted by the incident all deal with the aftermath differently.
But it's to the credit of Haggis and co-writer Robert Moresco that the script doesn't paint the characters with stereotypical strokes. For example, Dillon's character could have been a one-note racist dirty cop. But he's also a devoted son, frustrated by the hurdles of the health care system, as he cares for his ailing father.
In "Crash," many of the characters are morally complex people, neither good nor bad. Some make decisions that are worthy of praise, while others make ones that make you shake your head in disappointment.
True, some of the situations are a bit coincidental and overwrought, as the script seemingly does gymnastics to make some characters' lives intersect. But the actors make you believe in the choices they make, leaving you to examine your own shortcomings. It would be quite a stretch to call "Crash" educational, but it does seem to aspire to have people actually talk about sometimes uncomfortable subjects, such as racism. Hopefully, the real education comes out of those conversations.
(Rated R for language, sexual content and some violence.)