CRASH (Paul Haggis, 2004)
Like MAGNOLIA and SHORT CUTS, CRASH looks at the intersecting lives of several southern Californians. The ensemble cast includes Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock as a couple who get carjacked, Terence Howard and Thandie Newton as a TV director and his wife who face police harassment during a traffic stop, and Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Ryan Phillippe as members of the LAPD.
While strides have been made in this country’s race relations, CRASH brings to the forefront the prejudices and stereotypes that often remain unspoken. MILLION DOLLAR BABY scribe Paul Haggis co-writes and directs. His implication isn’t that everyone is a racist but that it takes an ongoing, conscious effort to banish the biases and rushes to judgment ingrained in the culture. In CRASH Haggis subverts the audience’s expectations by placing characters in the middle of a spectrum spanning from nondiscriminatory to racist. Fraser’s character, an ambitious Los Angeles district attorney, hires African-Americans for his staff, but his intent proves to be selfish and politically motivated. Rapper Ludacris plays an articulate character who decries the fact that his skin color and fashion sense lead the white community to assume he’s a criminal, suspicions that also happen to be correct.
CRASH isn’t about finding solutions. That’s too large of burden to place on one film; however, Haggis offers redemption for those wrestling with race issues. CRASH is most powerful in the scenes involving Newton and Dillon, whose characters find their perceptions challenged although not necessarily altered. The film’s cast is uniformly excellent. Newton wrings the emotion from her few moments on screen. Bullock proves she’s able to do more than act cute and klutzy. If she wants to extend her career, she’d be wise to do more films like CRASH and phase out those like MISS CONGENIALITY 2. CRASH is one of the year’s best films to date.
(Review first aired on the May 10, 2005 NOW PLAYING)