Film, at its best can do an extraordinary thing. It can focus its unblinking eye on society, baring the best and worse our species has to offer.
Few films have managed to take on this task with even a modicum of success, the Paul Anderson film, Magnolia comes to mind, and now there is another film in this small pantheon, Crash.
One thing about the title, do not confuse this film with the 1996 David Cronenberg of the same name, except for the fact that both deal with automobiles they are literally as different as day is from night. The Crash under consideration here is a look at the social strata of the overly mobile community of Los Angels.
As the film starts the camera slowly comes into focus, like a person’s vision while regaining consciousness. The audience begins to see the aftermath of a shooting of a young African American man, the police gathering evidence as to just what took place. Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) is in charge of the investigation and just as the police discover something horrific the scene shifts to the previous afternoon.
Two young black men, Anthony (rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate) are engaged in a friendly argument over the covert plot of the white citizens against their community. They see an affluent white couple in a high-end vehicle and car jack them. It turns out the couple is the Los Angeles district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his completely diva of a wife Jean (Sandra Bullock).
The focus of the film shifts between various groups of people, living separate lives, not knowing that they are being drawn together. One scene shows a prosperous black couple Cameron (Terrence Howard) and Christine (Thandie Newton) a driving, Christine performing a very intimate act on her husband.
Then there is Sergeant Ryan (Matt Dillon), an LA police office that is at a career low. His hatred of other races inspires him to pull over Cameron and Christine. To the horror of his partner, Officer Hanson (Ryan Phillippe) Ryan begins to sexually assault Christine using a weapons search as a flimsy premise.
Ryan’s already prejudice attitude is only reinforced by a recent incident, his father was just misdiagnosed with prostrate cancer by a black HMO doctor.
In another plot line Persian American Farhad (Shaun Toub) feels so pressured by the recent political and social climate. This is reinforced by his constantly being mistaken as an Arab that he decides to purchase a gun with the help of his daughter Dorri (Bahar Soomekh). Seeing people of this ethnic background does not sit well with the owner of the gun store.
The Crash represents something that has unfortunately very rare in Hollywood, vision. It actually assumes that the audience is composed of intelligent human beings capable of holding more than the simplest of plots in their minds. Crash takes on one of the darkest aspects of humanity, prejudice.
Set in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, Los Angeles, there is a natural feel to the way The Crash sets the different segments of society up for their interaction.
It is only human to come to The Crash with your own thoughts on racism but after experiencing it you are forced to reconsider even the most innocent feelings you have. Racism is almost a bound between these people; it holds the numerous stories together, pulling them to the ultimate conclusion.
There is a dramatic impact to The Crash the likes of which I have not seen in a long time. While much of what is presented is not for those who are easily offended, this topic is one that has been forced into the collective consciousness of the public than at almost any other time.
In order to pull off this style of film the cast has to be a cut above the norm. The Crash succeeds in this respect better than most films.
Don Cheadle has a long career in a variety of films, many independent, mostly secondary characters. This is the time that he is showing he can carry a film. Between The Crash and Hotel Rwanda, Cheadle demonstrates the true extent of his dramatic talents. He allows the audience to empathize with Detective Waters, something that comes almost organically to the viewer.
Sandra Bullock has always been America’s perfect sweetheart. Here Bullock shows everyone that she can handle much darker roles. Her presentation of Jean is one of a self-absorbed bratty woman, a far cry from the usual roles in her romantic comedies.
Matt Dillon gives one of the best performances of his life. Instead of portraying this bigoted police office in the typical one-dimensional style he gives Ryan great depth. There is a reason presented for his feelings that is offered not as an excuse but instead as just part of what drives this man.
Thandie Newton is given one of the most difficult scenes in The Crash and she more than meets the challenge. She is an actress that is not only beautiful but who is growing rapidly in her talent and stage presence.
Paul Haggis, like many directors today cut his teeth in television. Looking at his writing resume that includes such titles as Diff’rent Strokes, One Day at a Time and Love Boat, you may be inclined to underestimate this man’s abilities. Let’s face it he also went on to write the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. This is a discredit to this man.
Haggis takes on the incredible task of balancing numerous plots and story lines with the grace of a master juggler. While many, including myself, are reminded of Magnolia, the comparison is only valid in that both films are structured in a similar fashion, characters drawn together by seemingly random incidents.
The Crash is unique in that where Magnolia looked at a broader view of the human condition, The Crash focuses on the role prejudice plays in every life. While difficult to watch at times The Crash drives home its point with brutal honesty.
Artisan has given The Crash the DVD treatment it deserves. Although they yield to the current trend of separate pan & scan and widescreen versions, do yourself a favor and stick to the widescreen. There is so much detail in the frame you need to see it all to catch the full vision of the director.
The video in The Crash is stark, almost visceral. The color palette used to reinforce the emotion that leaps out from the performances.
The Dolby 5.1 audio is so clear that every little sound is audible. The overall sound stage is very well balanced, rich and full.
There is a commentary track that features Haggis, Don Cheadle and Bobby Moresco. They detail the production of The Crash and are generally interesting. There is also an introduction by Haggis and a peak behind the scenes, which just adds to the appreciation of The Crash.
The Crash is a must have film for the serious collector.
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