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USA 2004
Directed by
Paul Haggis
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Crash (2004)

Synopsis: Over the course of 36 hours in LA, the lives of about a dozen people collide, actually and metaphorically. District Attorney Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his chronically angry socialite wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) are carjacked by black punks (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges). Racist cop Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his decent-minded partner Officer Hansen (Ryan Phillippe) pull over and harass a black TV producer Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his glamorous wife (Thandie Newton). Meanwhile Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito) prang with a car driven by a Chinese woman, while an Iranian store owner Farhad (Shaun Toub) buys a gun and gets aggro with Mexican locksmith Daniel (Michael Peña). The racial slurs fly as people are either judging or being judged.

Paul Haggis's film is an interlocking composition of short episodes, coming thick and fast on each other and eventually coalescing into a whole that brings all the lives and plot threads together. This approach never makes for easy cinema but as one begins to grasp the interrelationships, it ultimately makes for compelling viewing.

Haggis (screenwriter for Million Dollar Baby which was released the same year) has made a fine directorial debut with this gripping and challenging film. The overriding themes of racial intolerance and biased judgement are presented in such a way that we must  examine our own attitudes. There is no black and white (so to speak), only shades of grey, as characters morph from aggression to compassion, and perpetrator to victim.

The ensemble cast is splendid, and even though some roles are tiny, they stand-out. Sandra Bullock should give up on congenial comedy and go for serious drama – I have never seen her this good. Matt Dillon captures the ambivalent extremes of a cop who is at once tormented, dedicated and abusive. Don Cheadle also impresses but every actor in the large ensemble acquits themselves well in their respective role.

Certain scenes and episodes have a depth of emotion and tension that is jaw-clenching and gut-wrenching both at once. There are other scenes in which the misunderstanding and miscommunication endemic to human relations are captured with deadly accuracy. Then, just when we think we have characters neatly pinned down and categorised something unexpected happens and we see yet another side of them.

Haggis doesn't go light on the sentimentality, particularly in the film's latter stage as he wraps up the various storylines, but he stops well short of a typically reassuringly neat Hollywood ending. And in the final analysis that is OK: the artist can capture life by making it stand still for a while but eventually it continues on its messy way. And in straddling those two perspectives, the whole and the part, Crash is an impressive film.

Note must be also be made of Mark Isham’s glorious original music which at times approaches a religious experience.




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