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Starring: Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda • Iron Man 2), Matt Dillon (Drugstore Cowboy • There’s Something About Mary)
Directed By: Paul Haggis (The Next Three Days)
Overview: Following the interconnected lives of people faced with racism in Los Angeles.
Crash is about racism and car accidents and racism and cops and racism and carjacking and racism and some elements of racism, I think. Best Writing, Editing and Best Picture winner of 2006, it is clear that a theme flogged into a mantra repeated in every single scene of a film makes for a popular pick at awards shows.
The wealthy and Caucasian District Attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) are carjacked by black thugs Peter (Larenz Tate) and his vocal race-theory partner Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges). When they arrive home, Jean orders better locks put on the door. The locksmith is tattooed Hispanic Daniel Ruiz (Michael Peña). Blatant racist cop John Ryan (the ever-impressive Matt Dillon) and his less-biased partner, Tom Hanson (Ryan Phillippe), while on patrol, pull over wealthy African-Americans Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton), where they are victim of overt injustice. Meanwhile, Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) investigates the shooting of a black cop by a white cop, and a Persian shop owner spits racist vitriol at everyone he meets. As we continue to explore the lives of these people, we learn how they cross one another’s paths in much the same way Magnolia did, though I’d opine that Magnolia told a far better story.
The race card is trump in Crash. Over-the-top and flogged to death, the theme is played to the point of being ironically palatable, even enjoyable. As one settles into a painless state of shock after an injury, so too does Crash’s script sooth its viewer it’s bashed repeatedly into their face like a metal oar. Once you get over the fact that there is no single scene where racism isn’t the issue, once you realize Crash is one big clip-mix mash-up of hate and vocal knee-jerking, you can start enjoying it.
"My father is from Puerto Rico. My mother is from El Salvador. Neither one of those is Mexico."
"Well then I guess the big mystery is who gathered all those remarkably different cultures together and taught them all how to park their car on their lawns?"
Though lacking nuance, the script is polished and the characters intricate enough to get interested in – even the bastard bigot cop John Ryan and Anthony, the opinionated hood. Crash has that overproduced feel - those obvious beautifully wrapped-up vignettes complete with musical montage and pan-out crane shots - but where it matters, it makes its message clear. Integral scenes are exciting, plot development is solid. My big problem with this movie is that too often our characters get a pass. People in an agitated state get away with what they’ve done because they deserve a second chance. Whether they pull the trigger or jack the car, maybe what they just needed was for their victim to reach out - pistol barrel in face - and shake the hand of their assailant with forgiveness. A lot of Crash is straight up feel-good, huggy-kissy, lovey-dovey bullsh crowned by so much potential. No, I don't need all these characters to have realistic consequence. They don’t all need to suffer tragedy, but I hoped for more, though from early on knew not to expect it. The closest thing that Crash comes to being a teacher of the lesson of tragic fate is being a teacher of irony, and for that reason I suspect it won’t stand the test of time, it’s already showing its edges.
For as well-played and immersive as it is, Crash is not a lesson in human nature. It's a lesson in human screenwriting.
Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 6
Overall Rating: 76% (Hits Hard But A Little Messy)
Paul Haggis is writer over director, earning back-to-back Academy Awards for writing Million Dollar Baby and Crash, but his words are also the ones behind recent Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, and Eastwood’s WWII films Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. His writing credits are epic, including being the creator of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “The Black Donnellys”. It’s obvious this man is a career writer. Though some scenes are ham-fisted in Crash, the writing is more than decent.
It’s also probably Tony Danza’s best role yet.