February 1, 2006
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Larenz Tate, Chris Bridges, Keith David, ,
Thanks to a canny marketing campaign and a star-studded cast, Crash (2004) was a hot topic, must-see movie when it came out in theatres earlier this year. Like Steve Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), Crash addresses a major problem that continues to plague the United States, with multiple storylines and a large cast of characters. With Traffic it was drugs while Crash addresses racism as it presents a cross-section of Los Angeles culture and deals with all different kinds of racism. For example, there is an argument between a Latino woman (Esposito) and an Asian woman over a car accident. A rich, white couple (Bullock and Fraser) are carjacked by two black men (Bridges and Tate) who, beforehand talk about being racial discriminated in a predominantly white neighbourhood. A rookie cop (Phillippe) is stuck with a racist partner (Dillon). Many of the characters appear to be racist in one form or another, whether overtly or in more subtle ways. Some of this racism comes out of frustrations based on something else while for others it is inherent in who they are.
The film shows how a casual insult can escalate into a heated argument over the stupidest thing. The two biggest problems that cause these racially charged conflicts are that people don’t listen and that they live in fear. Characters in Crash say a lot of things to each other but it is often lost amongst the white noise. A simple misunderstanding between a locksmith (Pena) and an Iraqi convenience store owner leads to a nasty argument because the owner doesn’t listen. Fear is another prime motivator. A white character sees two black men walking towards her and her husband on the street and naturally assumes that they are going to cause them trouble (and they do). She tries to avoid them out of fear and this is fueled by what we see on TV every night. Newscasts are full of murder and other horrible crimes that always seem to be caused by black people and this only feeds the fear that people feel every day.
Director and co-screenwriter Paul Haggis (who also wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) structures his movie much like Short Cuts (1993) and Magnolia (1999) in that he juggles several seemingly disparate storylines with many characters, and spends time setting up their motivations before building to inevitable confrontations, including one event that affects everyone. Haggis expertly weaves the various stories together and doesn’t try to get too cutesy by trying to provide convenient ways to interconnect them.
Crash features a uniformly excellent cast, even from mainstream actors like Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser who aren’t known for being in these kinds of movies. Don Cheadle turns in a soulful performance as a police detective investigating police corruption while trying to take care of his drug addict mother. Matt Dillon is chilling as a racist and sexist cop who harasses an affluent black couple (Howard and Newton).
The film throws a few narrative curve balls to keep the audience guessing as to how each storyline will eventually play out. They aren’t always resolved as it looks like they might or nice and neatly. Some characters learn their lesson or, at the very least, see the world through different eyes for perhaps the first time in their lives.
Like Traffic before it, Crash is an important film because it asks tough questions that most Hollywood studio films do not. In the case of the latter film, it is how we get along (or don’t). The party line in this country claims to boast how we’ve come so far in how we view other races but Haggis’ film questions this notion. His film is honest in its depiction of how people deal with racism on a daily basis: they either suck it up or become enraged and even violent. Sometimes it is a sudden explosion of anger and sometimes it is a slow burn over time.
There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction to the DVD by Haggis which seems unnecessary and should have been dropped.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Paul Haggis, producer/actor Don Cheadle and producer/writer Bobby Moresco. The idea for the film came from an incident where Haggis was carjacked by a couple of kids. Cheadle was cast first and he attracted the rest of the cast who wanted to work with him. With a cast like this, the participants spend a fair amount of time talking about the casting process. They also talk a lot about making this movie on a small budget and how those limitations resulted in creative solutions to problems that arose. This is a pretty decent track filled with lots of information and making of anecdotes.
There is a “Behind the Scenes” featurette. The cast, not surprisingly, were drawn to the movie because of the strong screenplay and how it dealt directly with issues of race. Cheadle says that the film doesn’t raise any new issues but should make people question their own beliefs. One of the film’s producers nails it when she describes Crash as a “morality play.”
There is a music video for “If I…” by Kansascali which is pretty standard stuff of the musician performing intercut with clips from the movie.
Finally, there is a trailer for the soundtrack.