The “real world” is a term that I believe to be overused. I heard it all through college. “When you get out into the real world, things won’t be so easy,” my parents and other family friends would say. They would be right, but we were all referring to the real world of work. The real world of human relations is a completely separate beast.
Crash is a film about the real world, but perhaps not about the one that you are familiar with, or I am familiar with, for that matter. The heart of the subject matter presented regards contemporary race relations in Los Angeles. The screenplay is told in vignette-style, which was brought to the mainstream by the great Robert Altman. This is the method that tells a variety of short stories that come together to form one larger story in the end. Characteristics include coincidences, sometimes implausible, open endings, and usually heavy, intricate topics of interest. Altman made beautiful use of it in 1993’s Short Cuts, as did Paul Thomas Anderson in 1999’s Magnolia. Writer/Director Paul Haggis, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay earlier this year for Million Dollar Baby, makes a directorial debut for the ages.
Rick (Brendan Fraser), a wealthy big wig District Attorney, and his spoiled wife, Jean (Bullock), are headed to their car after a night out. They are approached and their vehicle is subsequently stolen at gunpoint by Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Tate), two Caucasian-hating youths. As a result of the incident, Jean goes on a tirade about minorities and crime. Hearing the brunt of it is Daniel (Michael Pena), a Latino locksmith who is taking care of a household chore for the couple. Jean foreshadows that Daniel will sell the key to the lock to a gang banger, mainly because he is Latino and has a tattoo.
On the other side of town, cops Ryan (Dillon) and Hanson (Phillipe) are pulling over African American couple Cameron (Terrence Dashon Howard) and Christine (Thandie Newton) for reasons regarding possible sexual activity in the car. Ryan is the king of all racist cops, and in a lewd act Cameron is forced to watch as Ryan gropes his wife while “searching” her. Hanson stands in disbelief as Ryan lets the couple go, with Christine embarrassed and hurt.
Graham (Cheadle) is a cop who is investigating a car accident as the film opens. He is romantically involved with his partner, Ria (Esposito). Their interracial relationship is being pressured by Graham’s mother, who would prefer he spend his time trying to bring his brother out of a progressively downward spiral of gang activity.
Farhad (Shaun Toub) is the head of a Middle Eastern family whose convenience store is everything to them. Farhad insists on having a gun for protection against the unsavory characters who roam their part of town, but his daughter, Shereen (Marina Sirtis), feels he is too inexperienced to own a firearm.
This is as much plot as I will explain, as this is a film that truly deserves to be discovered and experience by each film goer on an individual basis. All of the situations outlined above criss, cross, and come together at various points throughout the film. There is never a dull moment, and many scenes will take your breath away with their power.
A film like this needs powerhouse performances all around, especially with this particular film’s subject matter. Everyone involved here delivers astounding performances, with some possibly turning in their career best. Brendan Fraser, whose role is the most underwritten of them all, is good, but it is Sandra Bullock who makes a lasting impression as his wife who just can never be happy or satisfied with her life. Don Cheadle is outstanding as a relatively quiet man who has his own convictions, even if he does appear selfish at times. Thandie Newton flexes her dramatic muscle impressively as the humiliated Christine. A particular scene involving her and Matt Dillon will have every palm in the theater sweating. Speaking of, Matt Dillon emerges with the most memorable character and best performance as the troubled Ryan. This is a career performance for Dillon in a very difficult and most controversial role.
Haggis’ screenplay is a clinic on this form of storytelling. He layers the characters as the film progresses, revealing an aspect of each character’s personal life in each new scene. This breaks the mold of the one-dimensional “like ’em or hate ’em” characters we are accustomed to. This also brings a tremendous sense of realism to the film because we can all relate to at least one character from the film, whether that be good or bad qualities. Haggis also manages to make the intersecting stories work without making them ridiculously implausible by balancing each character’s screen time and keeping the individual stories chugging along.
Crash is a difficult and challenging film, and one, whether we like it or not, we must pay attention to. Race relations are a taboo subject to many, but Haggis brings the topic to the forefront in an undeniably powerful and relevant film. Some may find the film too melodramatic (I heard several people whisper that the film was getting to be “too much” at some points), but the core topic demands attention. This is one of the best films of 2005.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: R for language, sexual content and some violence.
Theatrical Release: May 6, 2005 (Limited)
Directed by: Paul Haggis
Written by: Paul Haggis & Robert Moresco. Based upon the story by Haggis.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser