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In a drama strikingly reminiscent in style and tone of P.T. Anderson's
film Magnolia (1999), the narrative in Crash shifts between 5 or 6
different groups of seemingly unconnected characters, whose
relationships to each other are only revealed in the end.
Not to be confused with the David Cronenberg feature of the same name, this Crash is the feature-length, studio-released directorial debut of veteran Canadian TV writer/producer/director and two-time Emmy-winner Paul Haggis. An in-depth exploration on the themes of racism and prejudice, cause and effect, chance and coincidence, and tragedy, "crash" is a metaphor for the collisions between strangers in the course of day-to-day existence. Set over a 24-hour period in contemporary L.A., it is a social commentary on the interconnectedness of life in the big city.
Crash features a top-notch ensemble cast which includes: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillipe and Larenz Tate. All put in superb performances in a tight script which is at once gritty, heartwarming, shocking, tragic and witty, and which will ring true with viewers of all demographics.
Centering around two disturbing car accidents, a carjacking, vicious workplace vandalism, and the suspicious shooting death of one police officer by another, the drama is set against the backdrop of a racist LAPD and Los Angeles justice system. Action shifts between the various characters, whose lives collide with each other in unpredictable ways as each faces their own moral dilemma, and tries to cope with the consequences of their resulting decision made or action taken. Each of the dozen or so main characters undergoes some type of a personal metamorphosis as the various story lines head toward a striking, common conclusion, which succeeds at being both cathartic and unsettling.
Crash is backed by a solid and varied, original soundtrack and excellent cinematography. Sweeping, wider shots alternate with disjointed camera angles which convey the chaos and confusion of the characters and the unpredictability of life. Occasional lingering close-ups -- on occasion without sound -- capture the actors' facial expressions, which suitably detail key moments of the characters' aching pain, fear, anger, bitter anguish, remorse or grief, far better than any dialogue could.
This breathtaking film is destined to be a critical smash and box-office hit. Five stars.
"Crash" is a complex movie with a simple premise: set in Los Angeles it
follows 8 main characters (and many, many more supporting) from all
walks of life and races whose lives intersect at some point during one
24 hour period. These people are all different yet all alienated, to
the point of breaking, so much so that when they come together, things
The complexity of the film comes from the encounters between characters and their tangled lives and worlds. Haggis' screenplay is so intricate and delicately written I couldn't begin to try to summarize the actual plot line (which destines this article to be kind of vague), but everyone meets everyone else at some point in the film (and there are a whole lot of characters). Sufficed to say these meetings are variably intense, casual, fleeting, dangerous, but they all effect the participants in profound and provocative ways, causing lives to find enlightenment or swerve violently, and watching it all unfold is mesmerizing because Paul Haggis (Oscar Nominated writer of Million Dollar Baby) made the film meaty with messy characters and topics and stories to chew and hurtle along with.
The all-encompassing theme of the film is racism, and it is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every single character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycle but also suffers because of it. Where racism makes for an interesting enough subject for an already provoking and fairly experimental film (I was surprised to see this get wide release), it's only the catalyst for a deeper, resounding story of redemption and the universality of our lonely situation which the movie becomes during its second hour (what you could call Act II). It switches from a somewhat depressing contemplative amalgamation of moments about racism in everyday life and how destructive it is, to a throbbing, intense web of choices and consequences -- life and death, vivifying or soul killing -- and the chance at redemption.
Following their actions in Act I, everyone meets a fork in the road or is given a second chance of some sort. Some take it, some don't, but regardless, by the end of the movie everyone has changed. This is what gives the movie wings during its second hour, makes it interesting, keeps you guessing and on knife's-edge. It also gives the characters depth and souls and shows that despite perceived and upheld differences, when it comes down to it we aren't different (which we see in a shattering scene between Ryan Philippe and Larenz Tate after Tate notices that he and Philippe have the same St. Christopher statue), in fact we desperately need each other. It's one of the few films I've seen where everyone is at fault somehow and yet there are no villains. It makes it hopeful, particularly with something as ugly as racism: everyone's fallible, but everyone has the capacity for good and nobility. That said, each of these character's inner struggles makes for all the conflict and resolution you need.
A talented ensemble drives the film, sharing almost equal amounts of screen time, but the folks who really stood out and had my full attention each time were Terrence Howard (plays a TV director), Matt Dillon (as a patrol cop), Sandra Bullock (a rich housewife), , Don Cheadle (a detective), and Michael Peña (a locksmith). These five gave deeply, deeply felt performances portraying a wide range of emotions and personal situations, giving souls -- alone, yearning, and searching in a world that doesn't seem to care -- to shells of imperfect people. But the actors triumph in little moments of human contact: a glance, an embrace, a pause, a smile, a wince, things that breath the film to life and with simple visuals give it profundity. This is beautifully illustrated in a small scene between the downward spiraling Jean (Sandra Bullock) and her maid after she's begun to realize all her problems may not be about the two black guys who car jacked her, but her own life.
Some closing notes: it's obvious it's a debut. At times the dialogue and acting can be stilted and unnatural; some of the initial "racial" situations seem forced; certain scenes could have used some editing or fine tuning, but by the end I didn't care. It also may be helpful to know that the first hour spends its time setting everything up for Act II, although it will seem more like a photo essay on racism than a setup. But by the time Act I ends you're ready for something substantial to happen, and at the perfect moment, stuff happens. I was entirely satisfied with this movie, I couldn't have asked for anything more. Still it's impressive, with his debut Haggis made a film that magically maintains a storytelling balancing act about people's lives that almost seamlessly flows, takes an honest look at racism with an understanding of mankind, a belief in redemption, and even hope. As I walked out of the theater into the rainy night it resonated with me and colored my thoughts as I made my way through the crowds of unknown fellow people filling the cinema. That's about all I can ask for in a film.
Like Altman's classic Short Cuts, and Anderson's Magnolia, Crash, by
writer/director Paul Haggis weaves a tale of multiple characters
through the web of streets we have come to know as Los Angeles. Unlike
those other two films this one has a very specific theme to explore.
From the opening line uttered by Don Cheadle we know this is to be a
film about how people relate, and from the interchange that follows
between Jennifer Esposito and Alexis Rhee (pretty sure she plays the
Korean female driver who rear-ended her) how people relate tends to be
ruled by first impressions or prejudice.
Race is paramount in this film, and all our preconceptions of who people are get twisted and turned through the intricate plot. With each new additional character we find another assumption, another stereotype, and then watch as that preconception is obliterated as the character develops. It is a credit to the deftly written script, tight direction and exceptional acting talent that every one of these many characters is fully realized on screen without ever feeling one-dimensional.
I would love to discuss some of the details of what happens to explain how well it is done, but part of the magic of this film is allowing yourself to be taken on this ride. Mind you, this isn't a ride of pleasure. The first half of this film is unrelentingly in its ferociousness. I could literally feel my rage at some of the characters forming to a fever pitch. The fear and hatred I was confronting wasn't just on the screen, but in the pit of my stomach. And in one absolutely brilliant moment I was literally sobbing at the expectation of horror unfolding, only to be cathartically released in a most unexpected way.
Mr. Haggis was in attendance at the screening I saw and explained that the idea for this film came to him one night sometime after 9/11 at about 2a.m. when his own memories of a car- jacking experience from 10 years before wouldn't leave him alone. Clearly this film was his way of relieving those demons of memory, using the catharsis of his art to unleash them and in doing so has given to all viewers of cinema an opportunity to examine our own preconceptions about race relations and how we treat each other and think of ourselves. He mentioned in the discussion after-wards that he likes to make films that force people to confront difficult issues. Films that ask people to think after the film has ended and not just leave saying: "that was a nice film".
This isn't a "nice" film, and I would expect that it will provoke many a discussion in the ensuing weeks when it opens nation-wide. It's a discussion long overdue for this country, and it took a Canadian to bring the issue to the fore in this brilliant, thought provoking film.
There is good and bad in all of us. This movie explores this like no other. It will make you think about the nature of bigotry and stereotypes. The characters switch from heavy to hero in a way that is deeply moving and exhilarating. It is TV drama style writing where several different groups of characters and plots interweave (Paul Haggis) but with none of the limits of TV, it reminded me of "Hill Street Blues" which from me is a big compliment. I am a Don Cheadle fan and he captures the role. Sandra Bullock plays against character and pulls it off with ease. The most impressive performance to me was Ryan Phillippe's. Almost every nationality in LA was represented and they all were interesting and realistic. The ensemble cast and various plots blend together and keep your interest. Cast is great, music is haunting, writing is superb. Go see this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I get the impression that I was watching a different movie to the
majority of other people I know who have seen this film. It's not
really that I found the film offensive or anything - just that the
script was unbelievably amateurish for a film that had obviously had a
bit of money thrown at it. I really respected Paul Haggis' work on the
Million Dollar Baby script and was bitterly disappointed to see how bad
this script was. It was clear to me that it was desperate to be the
'racism' version of Traffic, but I don't think Traffic was really a
film worth ripping off in the first place.
The worst feature of thisfilm is the way it shamelessly spoon-feeds its audience. Does Haggisreally think we are so dumb as to require a shot of the blanks? Do wereally need to see the phone book sitting on Farhad's dashboard, withthe address circled in black texta? Can we not be left to make someleaps in logic for ourselves?
I also had a major problem with the dialogue which was so 'on the nose'. I have heard one critic say that the quality of dialogue is deceptively high, because even though people may not speak this way, they certainly do think this way. That is irrelevant. It is the job of a script like this to utilise dialogue in a way that helps add to the characterisations and believability of the (in this case highly implausible) situations that are set up. These characters all speak using the same voice and all they ever talk about is racism.
Surely the purpose of a film like this should be to promote the fact that race should not really be an issue in these situations, but by making it the sole focus of every scene, doesn't it become innately racist itself? Characters walk around spouting their philosophies and conveniently memorised statistics on race relations as though they're regurgitating extracts from the research essay they've just written. It's utterly unconvincing and obvious.
A film should reveal its meaning gradually, not slap us in the face with it in the opening scenes and then never let up. I can see that Haggis' intentions with this film were honorable, but dare I suggest that by directing his own script he has not been able to identify and, therefore, overcome its flaws. I really hope that writer/directors will be really careful in future when approaching this 'mosaic' style of narrative. It has been done well a number of times, but getting the balance between the personal and the political right is very difficult. And Robert Altman will not be outdone in that department.
Take the pop-cultured infused socio-political discourse of a Spike Lee
movie, the glossy grit of a Michael Mann LA crime story, and the
compelling mosaic story-telling technique of a Paul Thomas Anderson
film, and you'll get the "feel" for Paul Haggis' stunning directorial
debut. To boil a film like "Crash" down to such terms, however, would
do it severe injustice. Powerful and thought provoking, this is the
most accomplished and compelling film since "21 Grams" premiered back
at the end of 2003.
"Crash" brilliantly shows through intertwining vignettes, that are often blazingly funny in their brutal honesty and fascinatingly gut-wrenching in their melodrama, how subtle racism (often guised in nervous humor) and overt prejudice (often exasperated by sudden irrational violence and an overabundance of readily available firearms) completely permeate our culture and everyday interactions within society. A hyper intelligent script showcases not characters, but brilliant representations of real people, people we know and pass in the street every day, people not unlike us. People who at first seem to be lost causes in the war against racism (witnessed in Matt Dillon's harried beat cop and Sandra Bulluck's spoiled District Attorney's wife) can often become the most unlikely solutions to the problem, while people who ride in on their high horse (witnessed in Ryan Phillipe's noble young police officer) can turn against the tide in the blink of an eye. No one is immune to it no matter how hard they try to rise above it (witnessed in Don Cheadle's quietly tragic detective).
In the end, everyone is flawed, the racism is inescapable, and the audience feels a twinge of sympathy for just about everyone. Perhaps that is what Haggis is hinting at to be our answer. Showing empathy and being able to relate even on the most remote level to every human being out there is the first step to that true brotherhood of man. Because the film offers no real solution, the discussion and discourse it creates in the minds of the viewers is the first step in solving society's ills. We can't tackle everything at once, but we can open a dialogue, and hopefully, one person conversing with another will be the first step to our salvation. It takes a bold film to raise such questions, and an even greater one to compel an audience to talk about the potential answers, and that is exactly what "Crash" accomplishes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this "movie" partly because of the sheer number of good reviews
at Netflix, and from it I leaned a valuable lesson. Not a lesson about
ethnic diversity however...the lesson I learned is "Don't trust
Yes, racism sucks and people are complicated, but the people who actually need to see this movie are going to be the ones who are the least drawn to it and least affected by it if they DO see it. The only reason that I can think of for the number of good reviews is that it's being reviewed by people who aren't used to thinking, or who've seen their first thought-provoking movie and somehow think that Haggis invented the concept. In fact, he basically made this film, which should be called "Racism For Dummies", as emotionally wrenching as possible, seemingly to give people who don't spend a lot of time thinking the impression that they've discovered some fundamental truth that's never been covered in a film before. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence it's not... An after-school special for the unthinking masses, cut into bite-sized overwrought ham-fisted pieces to make it easier to swallow without too much introspection.
It's as if they portrayed everyone as being the worst possible extreme, simply to make us happy that we're such good people because we don't identify with the characters. Let's face it people. NOBODY identifies with these characters because they're all cardboard cutouts and stereotypes (or predictably reverse-stereotypes). It's well acted (even if the dialog is atrocious) and cleverly executed, so much that you don't think to ask "where's the beef?" until you can tell the film is winding down. The flaming car scene was well executed, like much of the movie, but went nowhere in the end.
The messages are very heavy-handed, and from the "behind the scenes" blurb, the producers were clearly watching a different movie, because there is very little to laugh about in this movie, even during the intended funny parts. I have to stress that this is NOT entertainment, more like a high school diversity lesson...call it the "Blood on the Highway" of racism. They could even show this in high schools if it weren't for the "side-nude" shot of Jennifer Esposito.
In this film, everyone's a jerk and everyone learns a lesson (except for Michael Pena who gets the best role, but the most predictable storyline).
This is a bad film, with bad writing, and good actors....an ugly cartoon crafted by Paul Haggis for people who can't handle anything but the bold strokes in storytelling....a picture painted with crayons.
Crash is a depressing little nothing, that provokes emotion, but teaches you nothing if you already know racism and prejudice are bad things.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film's tagline is "You think you know who you are. You have no
idea." I reject both the suggested idea that I have no idea who I am
and the inferred suggestion that this film tells me who people truly
are. If people in real life are really like this, then man, we're
A bilious film that I walked into late and left prematurely. A film which is so wrapped up in its goal of becoming The Race Film of All Time that it loses sight of the very tools a film must use.
The rules of Hollywood are such: if you show something in the first half, it must be used in the second half. Thus the gun that the daughter worries about her father buying will somehow find its way into the story in the second half. The rules of Hollywood are to make dialog 'real' - a concept which changes with every decade. Is this 'real dialog' somehow less ludicrous than the 'real dialog' of Kevin Smith ten years ago? The rules of Hollywood state that we set the scene, and as action rises, the camera moves in closer to the faces - in this film primarily so we can see the supposed shame, humiliation and transcendental realism of the characters. The strings increase, the frame-rate slows down, and our heart is meant to break.
This film is as crassly manipulative as it is vapid. I have my own prejudices against L.A., which I freely admit, so to combat this prejudice I will not say that this is a natural situation stemming from the location, but rather probably from the author and director. The writer, Paul Haggis, already showed a taste for polemics over humanity in his Million Dollar Baby, which at least had a director who understood how to make the vision of the film bring out the best of a script's ideas. Now that Paul Haggis has his own hands on the camera it becomes obvious that not only does he not know how to write true, natural human drama, he does not know how to photograph or direct it as well. Paul Haggis comes from the land of TV, let us not forget: the land of diminished expectations.
Everything is as obvious as a TV-movie, simply presented for simple minds - Haggis drills into us, over and over again, that while on the surface people may seem to be awful, they have secret pains hidden. This is a nice idea, but so hamfistedly presented that the whole juxtaposition of bad/good has an amateurish feel. Structurally the film is broken up, in the tradition of Magnolia and other earlier films. The editing is as typical and conventionally "cinematic" as could be - if there is a dramatic movement, such as a door opening or a car driving past between the subject and camera, the editors use that extreme movement to give the cut that occurs there a more kinetic quality. The problem is that other than the drive to keep things moving, there is very little intelligence and thought behind the cuts - everything is kept by the books. Not only are the puppets of this hideous racial punch and judy show ineptly handled, but even the curtains are lowered and raised with incompetence.
The film tries desperately to present reality, but there's just no talent whatsoever. Some of the actors are good, some of the actors are bad, and all of the performance get muddied together, brought down by the low, low aesthetics of the film. We have cinematography which is technically clear: we can see the scene, we have a clear understanding of what is happening. However, not only is the cinematography unremarkable, but it is thoughtless camera-work and framing which believes that it actually is inspired. The result is little stylistic flourishes which one recognizes but do not actually add anything to the drama or pathos. For example - and this is a spoiler - as a father holds his dying child (the father might be shot too, I didn't stick around to find out) the camera sees his face and gives us the famous Vertigo track/zoom. The Vertigo shot!!! It was at this point that the film became hysterical and I just had to leave. I had to leave because it was so bad. I left because I was in the middle of a crowded theater, and I wanted to express to the audience that I was sick of emptyheaded Hollywood 'art' which is full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing (in the Bard's own words). I hate to waste such good Shakespearian references on something this remarkably bad.
After seeing this movie, I was able to really understand what "Six Degrees of Separation" means. There is a thread that weaves its way through the landscape of life connecting, influencing, and defining all. This movie is certainly thought-provoking, one cannot watch it without feeling either privileged to have become part of the fabric, or like a fly on the wall - seeing, yet unable to influence or guide. There is almost a sense of frustration at ones inability to be no more than an observer in this movie since it compels you to want to shout in warning, gasp in shock, cry in sorrow, and hold in comfort. "Crash" is definitely not a movie to use as a venue to escape life for a couple of hours, but it is a movie that certainly makes you take a second and third look at who you are within yourself. The actors are surprising not only for their depth of performance, but also because they do not play characters you think you know. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who likes drama, action, comedic relief, or just an appreciation for a well-thought out movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I agree with what so many others have said about the shallow and offensive nature of this film's examination of racism. It is baffling to me that so many people seem to have been fooled by its pretentiousness. I want to comment on the Matt Dillon character as an example of what's most infuriating about this movie. Here we have a man who -- contrasted with the film's underlying message that "we're all a LITTLE racist" -- effectively rapes a woman in public, cruelly humiliating her husband and deliberately goading him to make a move that, as he well knows, will lead to his arrest or even death. He does all this after pulling the couple over without any legal cause but because, as we come to understand, they are black and wealthy and he is a hurt little boy who is now the police and can therefore do as he pleases. This behavior is not a LITTLE racist. This behavior is evil. It is disturbing to me that this extreme of racism is held up next to another character's behavior -- spouting her paranoid stereotypes about gang violence -- to illustrate that everybody's a LITTLE racist. Later, we're spoon-fed some tripe about Dillon's poor old dad and how black folks drove him into the poor house. Is this supposed to explain, or worse, excuse this behavior? And is Dillon's character meant to redeem himself by committing the utterly unmotivated and unbelievable, laughably coincidental act of saving the woman he sexually assaulted the very night before? Please. The fact that so many people seem to feel some kind of self-congratulatory admiration for this film makes me feel sad about the shallowness of our understanding of racism, and our apparent lack of commitment to condemning and ending it.
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