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A dramatic film directed Paul Haggis about race relations in Los Angeles.

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Is This The American Dream We Want to Bequeath our Children?

  • May 29, 2005
Pros: Strong, unflinching performances; realism...

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 world’s 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 following—albeit minutely—the 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, that’s 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-American’s 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 see’s 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). Jean—who we later learn is always angry, but at what she doesn’t know—is 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. Farhad—who is always angry about something—gets 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 doesn’t 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 another’s 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 Thomas—a rookie—asks 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."

My Thoughts

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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More Crash (2004 film) reviews
review by . December 13, 2010
After watching the film Crash, it takes a look at the all the the parallels that each character faces in the harsh glare of reality and sees where every dilemma is put forth in every situation. In society the film talks about race and class against a multicultural society where cops are around every corner where they put you right on the spot to see how life out in the real world can be just as dangerous. Crash was indeed an excellent film illustrating that a person can have two sides, their professional …
review by . March 25, 2009
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review by . April 29, 2009
With the success of such films as Pulp Fiction and Sin City there seems to be a new style of telling a story where there are separate tales intertwined with characters crossing over between the tales. This film takes it a step further and seems to be like a soap opera with several plots happening at the same time with characters constantly crossing over between the plots. The director performs a masterful job of this and creates an excellent tale of many separate lives that reach a crossroad and …
review by . March 30, 2009
Crash is probably one of the most thought-provoking, well-written and beautifully acted films I have seen this year. In a collage of collisions, traffic and human, the disturbing underbelly of racism in LA is exposed in all its forms, each plot line producing outrageous events and even more surprising resolutions. With a cross-section of the public, multi-ethnic characters, cops, the advantaged and the disadvantaged, Crash manages to reach beneath the smooth exterior of everyday life, revealing …
review by . November 09, 2008
Sometimes there is a reason for people to be angry; sometimes there is no reason for people to be angry. But anger, hatred, and evil, are all Entities that do not recognize the boundaries of color, religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, or social status.     'Crash' is one of the most powerful movies I have ever watched. The script doesn't miss a chance for picking on people because of exterior perceptions and stereotypes, and no one is exempt from the hate. The plotline …
review by . January 02, 2009
The movie, set in Los Angeles, follows several unrelated characters as they come to terms with crime and racial prejudice over a two-day period. Some stories eventually overlap; others do not. The characters are presented honestly with all their flaws and a few redeeming qualities. The large ensemble cast is excellent; standouts are Don Cheadle as an honest police detective who has problems at home and at work, Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser as a wealthy couple who are carjacked, Matt Dillon …
review by . May 12, 2007
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"Crash" is a film that revolves around racism and bigotry, and as such it's no surprise that it's become such a controversial film. It was a major achievement for it to garner the Best Picture Oscar (which arguably "Sin City" actually deserved, but one doesn't expect the Academy to bestow awards to those films which truly deserve them), but although it did, and although Roger Ebert proclaimed it the "Best Film of 2005" (though the film actually premiered in 2004), "Crash" has been viewed rather …
review by . October 26, 2006
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CRASH is a movie about race and ethnicity in L.A. However, the film is more than that. It's also a movie about how we are all connected to each other and that despite the differences in our skin color, cultural heritage, and lifestyle choices we are more alike than we would like to admit.    The movie is an ensemble film that examines a wide variety of people in different parts of L.A. The film illustrates how their lives interact, or crash into each other, and how the varied …
review by . July 26, 2006
The acting in this film was very good. The cinematography was also excellent, along with the soundtrack.    But has the general American population grown so completely ignorant that the only way they can recognize and detest racism is when it's displayed in a trite and totally implausible movie filled with impossible character interactions and no-way-in-hell-would-that-ever-happen coincidences? By far the most moving character in this film was the latino locksmith, mainly because …
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Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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Movie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it's remarkable thatCrasheven got made; that it's a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents--black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian--is downright amazing. A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace fromMiss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop--these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines. Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay forMillion Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast--ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)--meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of...
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