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Crash

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

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"You Think You Know Who You Are? You Have No Idea!"

  • Mar 25, 2009
Rating:
+5

WARNING: This review contains some spoilers!

 

2005 was a year in which making socially relevant and topical films became a popular trend in Hollywood. Many of these films focused on particular issues, such as the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and the Middle East (Jarhead), corruption within the oil industry (Syriana), sexism in the workplace (North Country), intolerance towards homosexuals (Brokeback Mountain), the psychological inner workings of terrorists (Paradise Now), or political violence in Africa (The Last King of Scotland). There were, however, certain films that stood out from the rest, in part due to their subject matter or moral agendas, but more importantly because of the convictions of the filmmakers who made them.
Graham

One such filmmaker is writer/director Paul Haggis, whose film Crash (not to be confused with David Cronenberg's 1996 psychodrama of the same name) was distinctive because it didn't focus on just one singular political or social problem. Instead Haggis' films looks deep into the psyches of American citizens and there it uncovers the seed from which most of the world's problems spring: cultural misunderstanding and racism. Yet Crash is more than a fictional exposé on racism, as it is also examines the inequality of our social class system.

 

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, who had also collaborated together on Million Dollar Baby for director Clint Eastwood, wrote the film's explosive screenplay. In Crash, the two screenwriters create a modern mosaic of pride, prejudice, and presumption set in the culturally diverse and often volatile streets of Los Angeles. Here the story unfolds through a series of connected events, each one leading to an act of redemption or corruption for the flawed characters involved.

Desperate vengeance gone awry...
 

 

 

The story follows a group of disparate people, all of them prejudiced in some way, as their lives intertwine over the course of 36 hours.

 

Anthony and Peter are carjackers. Anthony, the more cynical of the two, is constantly protesting the apparent racial discrimination he sees everywhere, though he's completely unaware that he's perpetuating it. Peter, an optimist at heart, often balances Anthony's anti-social behavior, though his cocky attitude tends to get him in trouble. One night they steal a black S.U.V., which it turns out belong to D.A. Rick Cabot and his wife, Jean.

 

Meanwhile, Detective Graham Waters and Detective Ria, his girlfriend, are put on a murder case, where a white detective named Conklin gunned down a black officer. Conklin has a history of shooting black men and it's suspected that the shootings were racially motivated. But when Graham discovers that the black police officer was crooked and a druggie the case becomes complicated.

 

When Rick and Jean Cabot return home after the carjacking, Rick becomes preoccupied with trying to handle how the public will react to the carjacking, which he fears that since it was committed by black men will lead cost him the black vote next election. Jean is consumed with paranoia and has the locks changed to their house, but when the locksmith, Daniel Ruiz, shows up and he's Hispanic, she needlessly worries that he's going to sell a copy of the key to gang members. Rick patronizingly dismisses her concerns.

 

After the carjacking, Officer John Ryan and Officer Tommy Hanson search for the stolen S.U.V.. Officer Ryan is selfish and deeply sexist and racist, though Officer Hanson isn't, which leads to conflict between the two of them. When Officer Ryan sees a black couple driving an S.U.V that matches the description of the one stolen, he pulls them over, even though the license plates of the two vehicles don't match and the drivers look nothing alike. The S.U.V. belongs to a television director named Cameron Thayer. Cameron and his wife, Christine, were coming back from a Hollywood Awards show when they were pulled over and they clearly weren't involved in the carjacking. That makes little difference to Officer Ryan, who is basically just pissed off to see a black couple with a more expensive vehicle than his own, so he pulled them over anyway. Not only does Officer Ryan question them unnecessarily and humiliates them in the process, he also molests Christine by the roadside.

Considering what happened with his partner, Officer Hanson requests that he's reassigned a new senior partner or given his own patrol car. But Police Lieutenant Dixon explains that Officer Ryan has been on the force for 17 years and that if he's such a "racist prick" then how come he's still on the force and wouldn't this reflect poorly on Dixon's "managerial skills" if it was brought to his superiors' attention that Officer Ryan is such a blatant racist and is abusive of his power.

 

When Farhad's convenience store is broken into, he has his daughter Dorri buy him a handgun. Farhad has Daniel the locksmith come and replace the lock on the door, but when Daniel explains that the door needs to be replaced, Farhad refuses to pay him or hire someone to install a new door. After Farhad's store is broken into again and is vandalized, he decides to get back at Daniel, feeling that he was responsible for the break-in though he wasn't.

 

During a car crash, Officer Ryan comes to the aid of a woman trapped inside of a car that's caught fire. It turns out to be Christine, the very woman he molested two nights earlier. After he explains that she'll die if he doesn't help her, Christine is forced to trust the man who so grossly violated and humiliated her.

 

Meanwhile, Anthony and Peter continue carjacking. This time, however, things go really wrong when they try to steal Cameron's S.U.V. (apparently they have a thing for black Lincoln Navigators). Cameron is fed up and he struggles with Peter before driving off with Anthony still inside the vehicle. Because of the erratic driving caused by the struggle inside the S.U.V., they're pulled over by the police, who intend to kill Cameron when he resists arrest. Luckily, Officer Hanson shows up and talks them out of it and insists that they let Cameron go with a warning, albeit a "harsh" one. His temper flaring and his ego injured, Cameron shows no gratitude and leaves without a word of thanks to Officer Hanson.

 

Graham continues his investigation of Conklin and determines that regardless of whether Conklin's actions were racially motivated that the black police officer was not innocent. Graham has a meeting with Flanagan, the D.A.'s aide, and Flanagan suggests that Graham could be up for a promotion and become the D.A.'s Lead Investigator, thus ensuring that Rick would get the black vote. But Graham would have to testify that Conklin's shooting of the police officer was undoubtedly racially motivated.

 

Soon all of their separate lives will crash together and some will have compromised themselves, some will have learned the power of sacrifice, some will feel the weight of anguish and regret, but none of them will ever be the same.

 

 


When your assailant is your protector... 

The film is elevated by its brilliant cast, which includes, in alphabetical order, Sandra Bullock as Jean Cabot, Don Cheadle as Graham Waters, Tony Danza as Fred, Keith David as Lieutenant Dixon, Loretta Devine as Shaniqua Johnson, Matt Dillon as Officer Ryan, Jennifer Esposito as Ria, William Fichtner as Flanagan, Brendan Fraser as Rick Cabot, Terrence Howard as Cameron, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as Anthony, Thandie Newton as Christine, Michael Pena as Daniel Ruiz, Ryan Phillipe as Officer Hanson, Bahar Soomekh as Dorri, Larenz Tate as Peter Waters, and Shaun Toub as Farhad.

Sandra Bullock is great playing the cold and judgmental Jean and she gives an electrifying performance that's undoubtedly her best to date.

Don Cheadle is terrific as Graham, a wary and weary detective, who's forced to take care of his ailing mother and watch over his delinquent brother, Peter, at the same time.

Tony Danza isn't given much screen time to flesh out his character as Fred, a television executive determined to depict blacks as being thuggish and ignorant, but his performance is memorable.

Keith David is well suited to play the gruff Police Lieutenant Dixon, who allows racism to thrive in his department because as a black man he feels that he'd lose his job if he spoke out against it.

Loretta Devine is spectacular as the feisty and likeable Shaniqua Johnson, who turns out to be less likeable at the very end of the film.

Matt Dillon plays completely against type as Officer Ryan, an obnoxious, sexually abusive, racist police officer, who justifies his actions as being those of an experienced and jaded cop.

Jennifer Esposito is impressive as Ria, Graham's lover and partner, who is fiercely defensive when Graham calls her a Mexican, but has no qualms with calling a Korean woman Chinese.

William Fichtner plays the abrasive and demeaning Flanagan, who passes his racist ideals off as being socially conscious.

Brendan Fraser gives a surprisingly multi-faceted and subtle performance as Rick Cabot, the troubled D.A. and Jean's husband.

Terrence Howard is impressive as Cameron, who is caught between his pride and doing what's right, both professionally as well as in his marriage.

Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is amazing as Anthony, not only because he's best known as a rapper and not as an actor. Despite my dislike of his music, I have to admit he's great in this film.

Thandie Newton gives a stunning performance as Christine and in particular, her scenes with Matt Dillon are emotionally devastating.

Michael Pena is magnificent as Daniel, an Hispanic family man who is continually accused of being a crook. The scene where he believes his daughter has been shot is one of the most powerful in the entire film.

Ryan Phillipe gives his most complex and believable performance playing the do-gooder cop Officer Hanson, who most certainly doesn't do good when he mistakenly believes that he's about to be carjacked and shoots an unarmed man and then covers up the crime.

Bahar Soomekh is quite good as Dorri, Farhad's daughter, who looks out for her father with both frustration and compassion.

Larenz Tate is effective as Peter Waters, a carjacker and Graham's little ne'er do well brother.

Shaun Toub is stunning as Farhad, who allows his paranoia to affect his judgment.
Peter and Cameron at the auto chop shop...

 

Crash features an amazing soundtrack that includes artists from all genres, including traditional Welsh folk singing, modern rap, rock, and classical/opera.

The film's haunting, emotional score was composed by veteran film and television composer Mark Isham (A River Runs Through It and Blade), who was once the keyboardist for Van Morrison. The film's multi-cultural score, not only boosts the emotional impact of the film, but also helps to establish on of the film's main themes: that the coming together of different cultures can be harmonious, if we let it.

 

The film was not without its share of controversy and some felt that its message of acceptance was hypocritical and contrived. Also, a common criticism was that the story was ridiculously convoluted, which it is, but it's meant to be. As far as I'm concerned I did not feel that the film was hypocritical or contrived, as in essence all forms of art that express an ideal or multiple ideals could be considered hypocritical and contrived. For me this is simply not the case. Such art is transcendent in that it shows the passions of the artist (in this case a filmmaker) and displays multiple perspectives.


DVD booklet

Crash would become one of the most hyped and lauded films of the year and would win the "Best Picture Award" at the Academy Awards in 2005. Though, this caused some outcries from people who disliked the film, many felt that it was a well-deserved recognition of a great film. I fall into the latter category and I did feel that Crash was a modern masterpiece.

DVD cover 

The 2-disc Director's Cut Edition of Crash isn't all that different from the theatrical version, though there are some extended scenes that give viewers a better understanding of the characters and their predicaments. Personally, I don't feel that it matters much as to which version people purchase, though the 2-disc set contains far more special features and only costs slightly more.
The Detective Without Any Answers... The Superficial Hero... The Angry Rich White Woman... When Perspectives Collide... Conscious Without Conscience... When Your Assailant Is Your Protector... The Breaking Point...

What did you think of this review?

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November 18, 2010
Finally got the 2 disc
November 18, 2010
Sweet.
 
October 21, 2010
I have the single one for this but I am a collector so I will get this one some time, great review.
 
March 27, 2009
I checked my dictionary before making this comment just to be certain that I wasn't using the word contrived incorrectly. I do feel that this film is contrived and by that I mean articially manipualtive. Other writers and directors have been able to use large casts and extremely involved plots with interlocking stories with much more effectiveness than they are here and that factor definitely decreased my appreciation of the film AS a film. (Two directors who are very successful at this sort of thing are John Sayles and of course Robert Altman.) Not once could I forget that I was watching a movie and that I was in effect being lectured to. I don't doubt for a moment the film's sincerity, I saw no hypocrisy. Unfortunately I did see some very clumsy and embarrasingly obvious film making. This film is a 4 at best--and that is for its good intentions.
March 28, 2009
I totally disagree with you here. The acting, the direction, the screenplay were all spectacular. My only complaint was that I disliked the editing, which did feel amateurish to me. I used to enjoy Robert Altman's work until I saw "Dr. T and the Women", which was so sexist that I just about wrote him off as a director. As for John Sayles, I know I've seen a number of his films, but I can't recall any of them other than "Brother from Another Planet", which I did like quite a bit despite the slightly campy premise.
March 28, 2009
well BROTHER was one of his earlies films. He came from the Roger Corman school literally. He'd done a lot of scriptwork for him 9such as BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and PIRANAH) so I imagine that it seemed like an easy was to get financing for what was really a film full os social commentary masquerading as a science fiction flick. I haven't seen the Altman flick you're talking about but he's certainly done enough great work ( MASH, BREWSTER McCLOUD, GOSFORD PARK, SHORT CUTS) ) for it to take more than one film to knock him off my list.
March 31, 2009
Well, then you should have sat through the entire film. There's tons of comedy. That's the whole point. The director's using racist, stereotyped humor to make an ironic statement about racism. And believe me, here in the middle-of-nowhere Wilton Maine, racism is very common and very present. I couldn't even tell you how many times I've heard Asians referred to as being "Chinks' or "Yo-Yos", or how many time I've heard people call blacks "niggers" or "chocolate folks". And at this point in time I've seen more Confederate flags than I care to.
April 01, 2009
By "contrived" I meant the nothing more than the story structure. It was convenient and poorly executed. I have nothing at all against the film's message I'm with you there. I think a better story might have opened it up more and shown it touching all races rather than being as limited as it was.
April 01, 2009
Hey Trashie, I'm not sure what the heck is up with the whole "yo-yos" thing. As far as I can guess it's what stupid people call Asians when then can't tell whether they're Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Laotian. Queen, I did think it covered many races and that's kind of beside the point in my mind. To me the film was less about discrimination against a particular race and more about prejudice in general. The writer/director simply used racism as a sort of coathanger to hang the story from. Some might say that's exploitive, but to a certain extent, all forms of art and storytelling are a kind of exploitation.
 
March 26, 2009
excellent write up. I did like this movie but I feel that you were more impressed by the film than I was. Don't get me wrong, I would probably rate it 4.25-4.50 stars, it's just that for me, while the movie is indeed though-rpovokingly good, it felt that it held back a little--but I suppose that couldn't be helped. Again, great review. Like the way you broke down each character, and the way you steered a little clear of making your own comentary and stayed within the boundaries of the film.
March 26, 2009
Actually, I gave the film a 4.6, which was close enough to a 5 that I rounded up. I actually have a very scientific rating method, but I've never bothered to explain it. I mention it on my profile page, though.
June 02, 2010
methinks I'll feature this one in two days.
June 02, 2010
Sure. Thanks.
 
March 25, 2009
I try to be fair and balanced, so here are some other complaints about the film that I copied from Wikipedia.com. "The film received generally positive reviews with the review tallying website rottentomatoes.com reporting that 143 out of the 190 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of 75 percent and a certification of "fresh", while metacritic tallied an average score of 69 out of 100 for Crash's critical consensus. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and described it as, "a movie of intense fascination" listing it as the best film of 2005. The film also ranks at number 460 in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Some critics assert that Asians are portrayed in an overwhelmingly negative light with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The film has been criticized for reinforcing Asian stereotypes and lacking any manner of significant development of its Asian characters. From an alternative perspective, the film has been critiqued for "laying bare the racialised fantasy of the American dream and Hollywood narrative aesthetics" and for depicting the Iranian shopkeeper as a "deranged, paranoid individual who is only redeemed by what he believes is a mystical act of God". The film has also been critiqued for using multicultural and sentimental imagery to cover over material and "historically sedimented inequalities" that continue to affect different racial groups in Los Angeles."
 
1
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 …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
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One of the most thought-provoking movies you'll ever see, with some exceptional acting by a huge cast. Everyone needs to see this film, especially Americans.
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
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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
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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
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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 …
review by . January 09, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
First: throw your stereotypes out the window. They simply don't apply here.    To say that "Crash" is a movie about race relations is true, but it also sells the film completely short in terms of the effect that it has and the stories that it tells. It's almost unbearably frustrating, even infuriating to watch, because it's honest, and it is the film's honesty that makes it well worth seeing.    The story is a complex one, interweaving the lives of several …
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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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