In Los Angeles, a questionable traffic stop by a bigoted cop (Matt Dillon) and his nervous partner (Ryan Phillippe) leaves a married African-American couple (Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard) in pieces. When Peter (Larenz Tate) and Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) carjack the District Attorney's (Brendan Fraser) SUV, his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) goes on a racial tear to justify her own depression. Daniel (Michael Pena) is a quiet, polite Hispanic locksmith who finds aggression from a Persian family who loses everything in a store robbery he tried to prevent. And Graham (Don Cheadle) is an African-American detective looking for his lost little brother, forced to use his skin color to tow the company line when corruption rears its head in the department.
Last year, writer Paul Haggis left audiences thunderstruck by the power of his screenwriting adaptation of the heartfelt Oscar winner, "Million Dollar Baby." With "Crash" (IMDb listing), Haggis returns behind the camera (after years of television work), and once again delivers a masterful moviegoing experience.
While covering a multitude of arguments and ideas, Haggis' theme for "Crash" centers on faulty human communication; the film suggests that people have grown cold to affection and respect, instead immediately using hatred and paranoia as a way of communicating with their fellow man, almost always with disastrous consequences. The L.A. backdrop to the film explores the intense racial loathing and confusion that plagues the city, and while I'm not a fan of using the tired metropolis as a location for any film, "Crash" couldn't be set anywhere else. The setting has just the right melting-pot flashpoint posture to sell this seething tale, instilling the film with a realistic take on racial claustrophobia. Like many films, "Crash" makes Los Angeles look like hell on Earth. Yet, Haggis doesn't give in to that fear, and he manages to find a palpable sense of hope behind the shattering of cultures and furious intolerance.
The magic of "Crash" is that seamlessly balances melodrama and realism. Haggis and his brilliant cast often perform loudly and uncomfortably to generate the sickening feeling of despair that is being sought by the filmmaker. This is a film that deals with blinding rage, and while the story dangerously straddles the line between cartoonish and insightful, Haggis never lets the tone out of his control. He keeps the truth of the situation bubbling behind every scene, and he exploits the audiences' own personal prejudices with his scripted moments of aggravation, bitterness, and incorrect racial assignment. These characters aren't evil people, rather, they're products of their environments, families, and frustrations. They ache in very human ways to connect and protect, but they're stunted by their own fears and anger. Haggis' script marvelously connects the stories through an oft-used multi-character, crisscross structure (a favorite of Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Altman), but the cinematic showiness of the associations found in the film are erased instantaneously by the emotional wallop the movie routinely delivers.
As the film moves along (quite swiftly), "Crash" grows stronger and stronger, until it feels that the screen has become one with the audience. I dare anyone not to recoil in horror as Jean yells about the untrustworthiness of a Mexican handyman, or as Anthony decries the negative Caucasian viewpoint of African-Americans while carjacking any automobile he can. In addition, some in the audience might need heart medication after witnessing Daniel and his angelic daughter at the business end of a gun in the picture's best sequence. The events in "Crash" roll forward without stopping, at times unbearably, yet they register strongly with their frankness and integrity. The honesty might be uncomfortable to watch, but through Haggis' careful vision, the picture cannot be easily dismissed.
"Crash" isn't a simple film to digest, and with its uncomfortable ideas of intolerance and resentment, it also won't be a film completely accepted either. However, for a minuscule production, this is a masterpiece of substantial proportions. In the glut of summer product, "Crash" is an easy film to miss. I strongly urge everybody to take the time and seek it out.
Filmfodder Grade: A+