Cons: Some may find the racial language a little hard to digest.
The Bottom Line: A minute look into the underbelly American society; the shining city has lost its glow, if indeed it ever had one.
America is supposedly the prototypical multicultural society, the worlds melting pot where diverse cultures have come together to form a society of men and women who are free; free to worship as they please, free to immerse themselves in their own cultural identities while remaining American. And no city in America epitomizes the melting pot analogy more than Los Angeles, where dreams (and people) of all sorts come to flourish or die a harsh death.
But America has historically and habitually had a problem with relations between the races, problems that are well known and need not be recounted here; sufficed to say, the melting pot is not a harmonious one. And it seems we are becoming more and more disharmonious with each passing day. There is a decided lack of understanding between the diverse races, classes, and cultures that make up American society, and as a result we have become a fractured people, divided, as we continually crash into one another rather than merge in search of a common good, a common vision of what we want our nation to be.
Crash, attempts to tell that story by followingalbeit minutelythe lives of several people for a couple of days. And as we peer into their lives we experience through their eyes how they view their fellow Americans; their assumptions, stereotypes, fears, misconceptions, and miscommunications and the harm it can do over time to each of their souls. Because, make no mistake, racism and bigotry pollutes the soul with a darkness that is hard to dissipate with the light of forgiveness.
Penned by co-writers Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, and directed by first timer Paul Haggis (screen writer, Million Dollar Baby), Crash is a mini wakeup call, a glimpse into American life, and what the American Dream has become for far too many of us. Haggis has written of Crash: "[M]y aim with this film, is to explore how intolerance is a collective problem. I did not set out to offend or ignite controversy, but to look at many different people, each with his or her unique perspective. Film enables us to walk, however briefly, in the shoes of strangers. In that sense, I hope that Crash succeeds not so much in pointing out differences, but in recognizing our shared humanity." A tall order indeed in just over two hours and for most people to the movie will be memorable but not life-altering, but if it makes us think, thats a start.
Crash begins with, well a crash between two cars and three cultures in sunny Los Angeles. A Black American Police detective, Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his Hispanic partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito), whom he is having relations with, happen upon the scene of what is to become one of many literal and figurative crashes that occur within the cultural stew of Los Angeles. While sitting in the car Waters murmurs to Ria that the people of Los Angels do not touch one another on the streets as they do in other cities and the only way to feel anything at all is to crash into one another. He goes on that same evening to find his brother Peter (Larenz Tate) dead by the same roadside
Then we flash back to one day earlier as
Black-Americans Anthony (Chris Ludacris Bridges) and the above mentioned Peter leave a restaurant in a swanky part of LA. Anthony is one of those black men who sees racism around every corner, hiding behind every bush, always lurking in the shadows of his existence. Anthony is relating to Peter all of the racial injustices done to the two of them just before they car-jack black Lincoln Navigator of Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser), the LA district attorney, and his ever fearful and (seemingly) bigoted wife Jean (Sandra Bullock). Jeanwho we later learn is always angry, but at what she doesnt knowis so unsettled by this act of violence that once home she launches into a racist tirade within earshot of Daniel (Michael Pena), a Latino locksmith who is changing the locks on the doors of the couples home. Daniel is turn returns home to find his daughter under her bed, afraid because she thought she heard a gunshot. He comforts her by relating a tale of an invisible cloak of protection, his mother give to him when was five to protect him from harm. In turn he gives it to her in order to (he tells her) protect her from stray bullets.
The next morning Farhad (Shaun Toub), an Iranian (not Arab) immigrant, and his daughter Dorri (Bahar Soomekh), who is a doctor, visit a gun store, to purchase a gun; his grocery store is always being vandalized because the lock on the back door will not engage. Farhadwho is always angry about somethinggets into a shouting match with the white (bigoted) story owner, who mutters derogatory remarks about Arabs. Dorri purchases the gun, after telling her father to wait outside, but unwittingly buys blanks for it. After his store is vandalized again, Farhad calls the locksmith, they send Daniel who tells him that the new lock he installed will be no good until he replaces the door; Farhad doesnt understand, and is vandalized again, this time worse than the last time. Because he was advised to replace the door, the insurance company refused to settle his claim, citing negligence. Farhad than takes the gun and matters in his own hands; he looks Daniel up in the phonebook, drives to his house and waits for him the return home; he wants restitution at the end of a barrel. What transpires next is the most emotionally gripping scene in the movie.
Equally as memorable, but definitely more depressing, and for me more poignant is the encounter between LAPD police officer Ryan (Matt Dillon), an avowed, proud and unabashed racist, Cameron (Terrence Howard), a Black-American television director, and his mixed-race wife Christine (Thandie Newton). They crash into one anothers lives after Ryan pulls the couple over in their black Lincoln Navigator. His partner Thomas (Ryan Phillippe) tells Ryan that this is the wrong SUV (they are looking for the SUV car-jacked by Anthony and Peter), but he pulls them over anyway; after-all they are Black and must have done something wrong (the driving while Black syndrome). What unravels is a classic scene of humiliation, and cultural castration, and it was hard for me to watch with my wife sitting beside me knowing that at some point in our lives that could be us on the screen, only our ordeal would be played out in real-life. After the incident Thomasa rookieasks his Black commander to ride with another partner, or alone, when Ryan finds out he tells him, [W]ait till you've been on the job a few more years. You think you know who you are; you have no idea."
In his book The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, (review forthcoming), David Callahan writes, "[A]s income differences among Americans have grown larger in recent decades, so have social differences. The enduring correlation between ethnicity and income aggravates the problem, piling ethnic and cultural differences on top of class differences. Looking at each other across the chasms of class and race, many Americans see little reason to believe that they share each other's values and little reason to trust each other."
The end result of this is a divided fearful society where the poisonous effects of intolerance (racial, cultural, and more and more religious) and hatred manifest themselves in everyday interactions between people. We fear each other, we lock our doors when we go and get the newspaper from the corner; we give into fear of the unknown and lock ourselves in our houses, fearful of our neighbors across the street or right next door.
This cancer has invaded every aspect of American life, and we can see its affects in the current culture wars raging across broad segments of our society. It is the nature of mankind to fear what (s)he does not understand, but as intelligent beings, capable of reason and logical, we are supposed to seek an understanding of that which we do not know. Far too often, however, we do not seek to understand; it is far too easy to bask in the glow of ignorance, than to seek true enlightenment.
Crash does a deft job of giving us a peephole view of the racial and cultural schisms that divide our nation. It is not a pretty picture and it was not meant to be. But as much as Crash reveled, the movie only scratched the surface of the real cancer eating away at our society. But the movie is a great place to start a conversation, begin a dialog, and in so doing dissipate some of the fear, intolerance, and hatred that so mark the American experience, and tarnish the American Dream.
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