out of Five
Running time: 100
Not to be confused with the weird David Cronenberg sex-and-car-crashes flick, Crash is written and directed by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis. On the surface it’s one of those L.A. set, multi-character pieces such as Magnolia, Grand Canyon or Short Cuts, but it has an added racial angle which turns it into something altogether more challenging.
The film is set in Los Angeles over a period of 36 hours, during which the lives of the various characters will all intersect in some way. A paranoid Brentwood housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her DA husband (Brendan Fraser) are car-jacked by two black teens (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Larenz Tate).
The Mexican locksmith (Michael Peña) who changes their locks has a horrific encounter with a Persian store-owner (Shuan Toub).
A black television director (Terrence Howard) and his well-to-do wife (Thandie Newton) have a humiliating experience at the hands of a pair of cops (Matt Dillon and Ryan
Phillippe) and later meet them again in different circumstances. Meanwhile, another pair of detectives (Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito) attempt to deal with the strains of their interracial relationship.
Without giving too much away, the film sets out to reverse your expectations of the characters at every turn, specifically in regard to their various attitudes concerning race. The first time this happens it shocks you but makes you laugh simultaneously; then you realise it's pretty much going to happen to everyone. Whether you like the film will very much depend on how much you're prepared to go along with this and accept the various coincidences involved.
In the hands of another director this could have been horribly preachy and mawkish, but Haggis gets terrific performances from his cast and the dialogue is both well written and believable. Dillon is probably the stand-out - it's one of his best performances - but there's equally strong work from Thandie Newton (better here than she’s ever been), Terrance Howard and Michael Peña.
William Fichtner has a great cameo in which he comes across as a sort of mini-Christopher Walken. Surprisingly, Bullock and Fraser are hardly in it and the characters you come away remembering are the ones played by little-known actors.
There are some terrific scenes here. Highlights include Dillon’s two very different encounters with Newton’s character and Peña’s scenes with Shaun Toub. It’s also beautifully shot, with impressive cinematography by J. Michael Muro.
In short, Crash is an engaging, provocative and thought-provoking drama with an intelligent script and terrific performances from its ensemble cast.
It’ll be interesting to see what Haggis does next. Highly recommended.