Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul Haggis
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillipe, Larenz Tate, William Fichtner, Jennifer Esposito.
In the same vein as Altman’s Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson’s overrated Magnolia, Crash is a sprawling film, featuring multi-layered and parallel narratives, populated by a variety of characters, whose lives and actions often intersect those of others during a thirty six hour period in Los Angeles.
Crash is a powerful, provocative, intelligent and insightful examination of intolerance and racial conflict in a major multi-cultural metropolis like Los Angeles, and doesn’t find any easy answers to the on-going conflicts. The film also deals with the error of judging people purely on appearances or making hasty, stereotypical judgements. It also looks at the pent up frustration of the busy pace of everyday life, and explores how the actions of one person can have a ripple effect that slowly spreads throughout the community and impacts on another person. We are so busy living out own lives that we are often isolated from others around us, and we don’t really stop to consider them until our lives collide with theirs. The colourful array of characters here come in all races, social classes and from both sides of the law, but they don’t always follow a predictable path. Some of the stories inevitably end in tragedy, while others end on a deceptively optimistic note that suggests that, for some characters, life may never quite be the same again but their experiences have changed them in some small way.
Like the best films of David Mamet, the dialogue is explosive and incendiary, and uncompromising in its honesty and frankness, and there is not a wasted word. Crash is the first feature film from Paul Haggis, writer of the brilliant Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby, and it is an accomplished and assured debut and easily one of the best films of this year so far. Haggis deftly moves between the various narrative strands, and, like Magnolia‘s falling rain of frogs, he ends the film on a cathartic note.
Haggis has assembled a superb cast, who sometimes appear in smaller roles, and who inhabit the characters they play and bring them to life. There are some 16 major characters in the film, and stars like Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe and Thandie Newton, deliver thoughtful and often uncharacteristically brave performances. If Crash comes close to having a main character it would be the always excellent Don Cheadle (recently seen in Hotel Rwanda), who plays a troubled homicide detective investigating a shooting, while trying to cope with a drug addicted mother. But the most emotionally wrenching story follows a Latino locksmith (new comer Michael Pena) who inadvertently earns the wrath of a frustrated Iranian storekeeper.
If there is a failing of Crash‘s ambitious structure it is that, with so many characters, we don’t emotionally connect with them all on the same level.