YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
It begins with Don Cheadle’s character stating the theme of the movie. He talks about how people in a normal city walk and run into each other. Not in L.A. though, because everyone’s hiding behind a shield of metal and glass and there is no interaction. Perhaps that is why people crash into each other, to connect. Screenwriter Paul Haggis focuses on fear in his directing debut, a darker film than the one he last wrote, Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby (2004). Racism is everywhere and its appearance is predictable… but sometimes an awkward surprise.
Hiding behind a mask of racism
In many ways, this film is reminiscent of other big-ensemble dramas about the City of Angels. There is nothing terribly original about the idea that the people of Los Angeles are hiding from each other in their cars, but what sets it apart from some of the other ensemble dramas is that all of the characters and stories are actually interesting. The acting is also superior throughout the film. This was a time when Sandra Bullock rarely picked genuinely good films, but here’s an exception. She’s definitely worth seeing as the rich bitch who’s married to the District Attorney; when the couple’s car is stolen, she goes through a crisis. The best performance in the film belongs to Matt Dillon playing a cop who’s hiding his sorrows behind a mask of racism; every day he makes amends by helping his father who is living with him and suffers badly from a urinary tract infection. Don Cheadle paints a memorable portrait of a rather detached police detective who cares for his dependent mother.
Terrence Howard and Thandiwe Newton are excellent as an affluent couple who are brutally reminded of the fact that money and status are not enough to stop others from treating them like lesser people because of their skin color. “Ludacris” and Larenz Tate are fun to watch as the carjackers who specialize in Navigators and often talk about the effects of racism… even though they turn out to fulfil the stereotype they hate.
Enough to raise your spirits
Prejudice is alive every time these characters bump into each other and Haggis shows us that whenever we meet another human being we can never claim for certain that we know the truth about him. A young black man could very well be someone robbing rich, white folks of their Navigators. A white police officer of the LAPD could very well be a racist. But it is also quite possible that a young Latino is actually not a gangbanger just because he looks like one, but a hard-working family man.
This is largely a depressing film aiming to shake urbanites out of their complacency. The message comes across without preaching – and without showing much hope. But there are enough positive sequences to raise your spirits, including a moving and exciting encounter between Dillon and Newton at the site of a car crash. Haggis delivers (some would say obvious) truths; some later critics have pointed out that it really has nothing interesting to say to non-white audiences… but it’s also a fact that the film’s reputation has suffered after winning the Best Picture Oscar, like so many other worthwhile films that shouldn’t have been greeted like a masterpiece by the Academy.
What lingers in my mind is how lonely these characters are. You can have all the money in the world, but the day you realize that your harried housekeeper is your best friend is the day you need to cause a crash of some kind.
Crash 2005-U.S.-Germany. 112 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Paul Haggis, Mark R. Harris, Don Cheadle, Bobby Moresco, Cathy Schulman, Bob Yari. Directed by Paul Haggis. Screenplay: Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco. Editing: Hughes Winborne. Song: “In the Deep” (Michael Becker, Kathleen York). Cast: Don Cheadle (Graham), Sandra Bullock (Jean), Matt Dillon (Ryan), Thandiwe Newton, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe… Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.
Trivia: Followed by a TV series, Crash (2008-2009).
Oscars: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Newton).
Quote: “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In LA, nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” (Cheadle)
Last word: “With ‘Crash’, I just wanted to fuck viewers up. I want to sit you down in your seat and make you feel really, really comfortable with everything you believe. All those secret little thoughts you have, I wanted to say, “Shh, shh, it’s fine. We all think that way.” And as soon as you get comfortable, I wanted to start twisting you around in your seat, until when you walk out, you didn’t know what the hell to think.” (Haggis, The Progressive)