- Reviewed by: Avril Carruthers
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Current Rating 9.08/10 | 178 Votes
Produced by Cathy Schulman, Don Cheadle, Bob Yari
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Loretta Devine, Shaun Toub, Keith David.
This is a movie to have you grinding your teeth and gnawing your knuckles. Utterly engrossing from beginning to end, its rapid pace moves from one breathless story to another of several otherwise unrelated people living in
In LA, sprawling urban development has determined both specific ‘racial areas’ and the proliferation of freeways and private cars in which different ethnic groups can travel and exist almost side by side but never touch or interrelate. Racial and social differences can be avoided until personal space or individual safety is breached, particularly when that symbol of personal safety, status and identity, the automobile, is stolen or damaged by another. So almost all the collisions between the characters in this movie occur in or around cars, in roughly one twenty-four hour period.
The people here, whether WASP, Latino, Irish Catholic, black, Korean or Persian, middle-class, poor or criminal, are almost all filled to the brim with toxic emotional venom which, with the slightest friction, ignites as pyrotechnically as sulphur and phosphorus. A rear-ended car, a misunderstanding, a hint of an obstacle, or a different coloured skin or accent – any of these situations is enough to explode instantly into angry, insulting invective, hostile racial stereotyping and threats of violence which are frequently carried out. Throughout the first half one becomes angry just in the watching of it. The second half builds its suspense on what we have already learned. Unpredictable outcomes, dependent on explosively uncertain elements, can unexpectedly avert a tragedy - or rush headlong to a desperate conclusion. It’s as random and chaotic as life.
Crash was written and directed by Paul Haggis, responsible with co-writer Bobby Moresco for the multi-award-winning Million Dollar Baby. It is such an edgy, powerful film that telling you much of the plot might detract from your experience of it, though there is so much story packed into this 100 minutes that it would be impossible to give you more than a brief taste here. Stories loop from one to another in a centripetal spiral, gathering momentum to a point of cataclysmic fusion for each storyline, then reversing direction into a spiral of centrifugal force, spitting out damaged individuals like debris. Like the story the characters are well crafted and believable, the glimpses of each individual’s life fleshed out more each time we see them, allowing further fragments of understanding of the pressures each is under.
The film opens at a night-time road accident crash scene where Detective Graham Waters’ (Don Cheadle) and his partner Ria’s (Jennifer Esposito) car has been rear ended in a multi-car collision.
“It’s the sense of touch.” he says, musing at the wheel, “In LA nobody touches you. I think we miss that sense of touch so much we crash into each other.”
In the grass beside the road is the dead body of a black kid. The story flashes back to yesterday, before eventually looping back to this moment, then there’s a fractured sort of resolution of all the stories by the movie’s end. Cause and effect – frequently tragic – is followed severally like so many lit fuses throughout the film.
Cops are among the few in LA forced to share the close quarters of their cars with other races. Matt Dillon’s Officer Ryan is a belligerent racist who abuses his power over the public he is supposed to serve and protect. His handling of a situation where he pulls over the black driver of an SUV and his wife (Terence Howard and Thandie Newton) is one of the most provocatively infuriating filmic sequences I’ve ever seen.
His partner Officer Hansen (Ryan Phillippe) is so disgusted at Ryan’s rampant abuses that he asks his black Lieutenant (Keith David) to be assigned another partner. The ludicrous consequence of this is a nightmare of frustration typical of the kinds of compromise all the characters at some stage have to make. Later, Officer Hansen both shines and falls into a pit of horror, succumbing to the same fear and misunderstandings he has been trying to prevent between others.
Subsequent interactions between Officer Ryan and his elderly, ill father; between him and Health Insurance clerk Shaniqua Johnson (Loretta Devine) and one long heart-stopping sequence involving him and Thandie Newton’s Christine in her crashed car, demonstrate conditioned behaviour patterns of dutiful, compassionate son, racist and selfless hero. Hard to discern what is the real person here in the character, between so much reactive anger and his complex, other-determined actions.
Don Cheadle has a measured stillness that allows an enormous range of emotional depth. Jennifer Esposito as the fiery Ria gives defensively as good as she gets. Among the other stunning performances of this talented ensemble cast, Sandra Bullock is unforgettable as the fearful, angry and isolated Jean Cabot, wife of the DA (Brendan Fraser), while the latter plays against type as a powerful man whose decisions are based less on the unbiased justice he represents than the public perception of justice which will win votes.
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges in his debut film role is brilliantly provocative as the circular-reasoning street sociologist and car hijacker Anthony and is ably matched by Laranz Tate as Peter, his off-sider and more rational foil. Their inadvertent collision with a Korean van driver reveals further callousness and shocking exploitation and degradations, as well as grace from unexpected sources. Along the way, Anthony’s warped logic and paranoid attitude would be funny if it were not so perverse. “Only one reason buses have such big, wide windows.” he tells Peter, “To humiliate the poor brothers reduced to riding in them.”
The story of luckless Persian store-owner Farhad (Shaun Toub) and his conflict with Daniel, a Mexican locksmith (Michael Peña), following the latter’s earlier, absolutely magic scene with his five-year-old daughter Lara (Ashlyn Sanchez), is one of the most explosive, white-knuckled, climactic moments of several in the film.
Crash is possibly the most thought-provoking, heart-lacerating, gut-churning and real films about racial and sexual intolerance, abuse and disconnection – as well as some redemption - you will see this year and for some time to come.
© Avril Carruthers 24th April 2005
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