In Crash, a simple car accident forms an unyielding foundation for the complex exploration of race and prejudice. Thoroughly repulsive throughout, but incredibly thought provoking long after, Paul Haggis’ breathtaking directorial debut succeeds in bringing to the forefront the behaviors that many people keep under their skin. And by thrusting these attitudes toward us with a highly calculated, reckless abandon, Haggis puts racism on the highest pedestal for our review.
There is no better place for this examination than the culturally diverse melting pot of modern-day Los Angeles. In just over 24 hours, Crash brings together people from all walks of life. Two philosophizing black men (Ludacris and Larenz Tate) steal the expensive SUV belonging to the white, L.A. District Attorney (Brendan Fraser), and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock). A similar vehicle belonging to a wealthy black television director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) is later pulled over by a racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his partner (Ryan Phillippe). Soon, many of these people get mixed up with a Latino locksmith (Michael Peña), a Persian storekeeper (Shaun Toub), and two ethnically diverse, dating police detectives (Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito).
Every confrontation leads to an inexcusably violent, outward display of racism. Haggis and co-screenwriter Robert Moresco have crafted a scrupulous script that keeps the film’s tension near the boiling point with merciless verbal assaults and disgusting physical demonstrations of hatred. There’s little redeeming value to any of these individuals. Looking for a hero? Forget it — you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone without flaws. One moment, they’re behaving in the most loathsome ways; later, they’re performing acts of kindness you wouldn’t think these characters are capable of.
And that’s the primary point Haggis seeks to drive home with Crash. We’re all in some way swayed by our preconceptions of others, and our behaviors and attitudes are affected by the situations we find ourselves in. In one example from the film, when Dillon’s racist cop happens upon a serious traffic accident, he risks his own life to save the life of a black woman trapped inside her car. Dillon, the previous night, sexually assaulted this same woman while showing off to his rookie partner during a routine traffic stop.
Superbly crafted and visually stunning from start to finish, Haggis’s follow-up to Million Dollar Baby is on par with similarly structured ensemble stories like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. All of the performances in Crash are first rate; to single out one would be an injustice to the others. Even those with the smallest roles generate a large impact.
Crash is not without some minor flaws. While the pure bluntness and confrontational nature these people take with their racist remarks delivers the film’s strong message, many times it feels like overkill. It also seems like a bit of a reach that all of these individuals would cross paths multiple times in the second largest city in the U.S — one too many conveniences for my liking.
Crash packs a giant emotional punch that keeps us watching and constantly demanding a closer look at our own attitudes and belief systems. This powerful and important film should not be missed.
The DVD includes commentary track and behind the scenes footage.
You have the right to remain silent during the movie.