Review Date: 5.10.05
“Nothing is just one thing”, is the saying. A cinematic exemplar of that observation is the movie “Crash”. With its large cast, led by Don Cheadle, “Crash” demolishes any notion that life in 21st Century urban America could be simple.
“Crash” is a little bit like a tin of alphabet soup. Empty it into a bowl, stir it up and watch the letters collide. They coalesce temporarily into words before breaking up to form new ones. But one word floats more often to the surface than any other – ‘racism’.
“Crash” is a portrait of the permutations, persistence, and omnipresence of racism. It’s also a study of the complexity of human character. As a troubled cop, played by Matt Dillon, says to his former partner: wait ‘til you’ve been doing it a little longer - you think you know who you are – you have no idea.
“Crash” is a fundamentalist’s nightmare. It suggests that behind most behavior is a mix of motives and causes, and that even the best of intentions are subject to a randomness beyond anticipation.
With its meshing of stories and characters, “Crash” is reminiscent of Robert Altman’s interweaving narratives. But “Crash” is more ambitious, and more pessimistic than Altman’s films.
The incidence of coincidence is frequent in “Crash”, probably more than some will tolerate. But it worked for me. Yes, there are almost zero degrees of separation in Director Paul Haggis’s Los Angeles. But this is not a film about Los Angeles. This is a film about the dysfunctional human family, a family of Cains and Abels, but also a family that manages to survive and muddle through.
Don Cheadle plays a straight-laced, straight talking detective named Graham. His test involves conflicting loyalties. When asked to fudge a report for the DA, he becomes righteously indignant, until the DA’s assistant drops a document on the table that threatens someone dear to Graham.
In scene after scene, each of which could stand almost on its own, Paul Haggis shows us how difficult it can be to lead a principled life, a good life. That some of his characters transcend, in one way or another, limitations of their own making, delivers “Crash” from a darkness that seems always just around the corner.
Two scenes in “Crash” stand out for me. One is a traffic accident that involves selfless heroism. Whether it has a happy ending, or not, I will not tell you. But I’ve watched the movie twice, and even the second time, though I knew what was going to happen, I was, as they say, on the edge of my seat.
The other scene involves a father and his five year old daughter. It’s so beautifully written, and played, that I’m sure I could watch it a dozen times and be moved. It’s about love, of course, but also about the power of “story”.
Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay for “Million Dollar Baby”, an above average, but greatly flawed film. “Crash” is a better movie with moments of emotional intensity that will stay with me longer.
It may not be a great film, but for sheer intelligence, it towers above the dreck that regularly dribbles and gushes from Hollywood’s studios.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.