Friday, May 27, 2005

Movie Review: Crash

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 5/6/05 (wide)
Running Time: 1:40
Rated: R (Profanity, sexual situations, nudity, violence)
Cast: Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Terrence Dashon Howard, Ludacris

Director: Paul Haggis
Producers: Don Cheadle, Paul Haggis, Mark R. Harris, Robert Moresco, Cathy Schulman, Bob Yari
Screenplay: Paul Haggis & Robert Moresco
Music: Mark Isham
Studio: Lions Gate Films

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After penning a phenomenal three-pronged character study in Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis has written and directed an astounding ensemble feature in Crash. By colliding racial prejudices, articulate dialogue, and ingratiating irony, Haggis has signed, sealed, and delivered a complete package of a movie. It is disheartening, unflinching, and at times even thwarting, but at no point does Crash falter and lose its effectiveness. While Crash may be bounded by an overused formula (where the characters interweave and the story wraps upon itself), the script is still dynamic and sole.

At the film’s opening, we are introduced to a homicide detective named Graham (Don Cheadle) and his partner - both on the force and in bed - named Ria (Jennifer Esposito). Both were just involved in a car crash atop the hills of Los Angeles (quite reminiscent of Mulholland Drive). At this very same crash site, the body of a kid has been found.

Rewind one day. Well-to-do District Attorney Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his snobbish housewife Jean (Sandra Bullock) are car-jacked by two African-American thieves named Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate). While the DA’s primary concern is losing the black vote, his wife’s racial insecurities surface. She becomes so distressed with the car-jacking that she lashes out at her husband to have their locks changed again; she is convinced that the Latino locksmith that they hired, named Daniel (Michael Pena), is going to copy their new keys and sell them to his “homies.” However, the locksmith really isn’t a “gang banger,” but rather a respectable, safety-conscious family man who lovingly supports his wife and daughter. Later, it is Daniel’s run-in with a Persian shop owner named Farhad (Shaun Toub) that results in the spiraling and potentially disastrous upshot.

Elsewhere, veteran LAPD officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his rookie partner Hanson (Ryan Phillippe), pull over a distinguished African American couple, Cameron (Terrence Dashon Howard) and Christine (Thandie Newton). Ryan’s racism exudes when he “searches” Christine for weapons and threatens to cuff and book them both. Because of Ryan’s unnecessary actions, Hanson requests a change in partner, and as a newcomer to the force, he attempts to be fair and just towards all walks of life.

Come Crash’s closing, some may conclude that Haggis overused coincidence and irony to resolve every plot thread, but it is through irony that karma and self-actualization are realized. Once the story arcs and the characters intersect, those who once held stereotypes – based on the shade of one’s skin – have developed, and those who were once blind to racism’s deafening effects have established racial suppositions of their own.

With Crash, it is a feat in itself that Haggis has compacted an ensemble script into a Hollywood-friendly one-hundred minutes. Unlike P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, Crash’s stories mesh quicker and more brazenly. Crash is a rare occasion where an additional thirty minutes of running time would have been accepted with open arms. We become so enraptured by each one of the characters that any extra screen time from any of the equally excellent actors would be entirely conducive.

After Baby and Crash, it is easy to conceive that Haggis may have the Midas touch. Crash is simply one of those golden pictures that you wish you could compel everyone in the world to watch. It is a sad truth that Crash’s fifteen-plus central characters serve as a microcosm of the very world in which we live. But perhaps the saddest aspect of Crash’s storyline is that between all of the murdering, blackmailing, racial stereotyping, and stealing, not one single soul seems to take notice that it is the Christmas season.

Crash is an important must-see and a wake-up call to all who possess even the slightest social discrimination. It depicts the boiling and brewing of an urban cauldron filled with whites, blacks, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and Asians; high-class and low-class; cops and civilians. It capitalizes with some of the most intriguing discourse on racism, and in all its violence, rage, and tension, Crash does not contain one single purposeless scene. Seize my suggestion, and see the multi-layered, cogent, and forceful Crash. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005