Oscar Movie Month: "Crash" Review

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The movie consists of several stories that interweave during two days in Los Angeles. It involves a collection of inter-related characters, including a black police detective with a drugged out mother and a thieving younger brother, two car thieves who are constantly theorizing on society and race, the distracted district attorney and his irritated and pampered wife, a racist veteran cop (caring for a sick father at home) who disgusts his more idealistic younger partner, a successful black Hollywood director and his wife who must deal with racist cop, and a Persian-immigrant father who buys a gun to protect his shop.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Crash" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: May 6, 2005
Directed By: Paul Haggis
Genre: Drama

"Crash" is a masterpiece of intertwining story lines that forces viewers to consider if their own prejudices and fears may be affecting their off-screen lives as much as these issues affect the characters onscreen.

"Crash" follows the lives of several residents of the City of Angels who all are affected in some way by racism, sexism, and other prejudices that exist everywhere in Los Angeles and the world beyond. The movie stars a cast of recognizable actors, such as Matt Dillon, Brenden Frasier, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, and Ryan Phillipe. Although the large cast of characters makes the film confusing at times, the intricacy of the plot holds the viewer's attention.

One thing that makes this movie so effective as a drama is that characters don't pull their punches. They rarely imply prejudices. They throw themselves into them, instead of hinting at problems and then smoothing them over. For example, Matt Dillon plays a bad cop, the kind who abuses his power and likes to watch his rookie partner, played by Ryan Phillipe, squirm when he cannot do anything to stop it. Dillon's character observes a husband and wife driving when the wife, played by Thandie Newton, performs a sexual act on her husband who is behind the wheel. Although technically illegal, Dillon uses this as an excuse to pull the couple over and torment them, not because he's overly concerned with road safety but because the husband is dark-skinned and his spouse has light skin. Dillon uses his badge and the threat of his gun to make Newton's character submit to an illegal search that is basically an excuse to feel her up in front of her powerless husband while Phillipe looks on, torn between wanting to stop his partner and wanting to keep his job.

But "Crash" isn't just about making people uncomfortable watching blatantly wrong situations. Later in the movie, Dillon ends up risking his life to save a woman trapped inside a car that is about to blow up. He discovers that the woman is Newton and stays to save her when everyone else backs up to save themselves. When Dillon sees a woman he earlier despised helpless, crying, screaming for someone to rescue her, he suddenly sees a human being who needs him, and that breaks through the prejudice armor he wears that we learn is covering up his own despair at his father's ill health and his inability to do anything to help him.

Later on, Phillipe finds himself given an opportunity to help the husband, played by Terrence Howard. Phillipe's guilt at allowing his partner to harass the man and his wife is written all over his face. Phillipe's character puts his career on the line to get the man off the hook, realizing that he probably would not have been drawn into such desperate circumstances had Phillipe's character said something earlier.

These chance connections paint a vivid picture of people crashing into each other and altering the courses of each other's lives. It doesn't matter if people are rich, poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, a foreigner, a national, in a position of power, or one of the masses, everyone is represented and shown to be just another person with the same basic needs and struggles.

What is truly interesting about the cast is seeing many big name stars playing controversial roles that fans do not often see. Sandra Bullock's blatant racism is a far departure from her usual roles as a sweet, sometimes emotionally tough, but usually positive character. Nice guy Brendan Frasier as her husband who seems to accept if not support his wife's extreme distrust of African-Americans is unusual. Dillon playing a guy with a chip on his shoulder is not altogether new, but his disrespectful and sleazy treatment of Newton's character is almost more shocking because of the actors involved.

The movie does not separate the bad, racist characters from the good characters who champion tolerance. Every character is hindered by the same prejudices-which are merely aimed at different groups. This creates a powerful statement for the universal issue of disliking people who are not considered your own kind. However, by using actors who normally play heroes without prejudices makes the point more forcefully that truly anyone could be the characters in the movie-people who happen to be born into one race, one gender, or one country and therefore adopt a dislike of people who happen to be born something else.

The director does a superb job of telling parables without preaching. Viewers are drawn into the story and care about the characters despite their differences. People are shown how everyone is basically the same by presenting different sides to each character. At times, the movie is confusing, even disorienting, and some of the irony may be missed, but overall, the film displays strong directing, intriguing storytelling, and incredible acting.

Rating: 4 out of 5