Racism is not an easy subject to portray successfully on film, and isnot exactly a cast-iron certainty to get bums on seats in the cinemaeither, still more if it happens to be glossed over with a Hollywood sheen.Crash, however, avoids most of these pitfalls, turning its subject matter into a study of human interaction on every level.
It helps that director Paul Haggis chooses Los Angeles as his base, ashaving lived there for 25 years he knows a thing or two about thecity’s dynamics. The ensemble cast list is high powered, but there’s nomain character as such. If one does emerge it’s Don Cheadle‘s copGraham, who often speaks volumes with just one look, a shrug of hisimmaculately suited shoulders. His partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito)and his mother perceive a lack of involvement on his part, but they misskeenly felt emotions bubbling beneath the surface, given as an aside to theaudience.
A complex plot brings Cheadle an involvement in some way in the lives ofeach of the other characters. The film begins with a husband and wife(Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock) the victims of acarjacking from Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges (the token rapper!) andLarenz Tate, taking place in what Bridges terms “an area crowdedwith over-caffeinated white people”.
The stunt goes wrong, conveniently scooping a Korean couple into theequation. Fraser and Bullock retire hurt, he preoccupied with saving a highflying reputation, her visibly scarred. To see Bullock acting in this wayis a revelation, shedding her kooky image to play a permanently vexed character in an uneasy, listless state.
Meanwhile another cop (Matt Dillon) hangs on the edge with his own issues, on one side caring for his sick father, on the other showingextreme contempt and racial prejudice towards a nurse, and, in adisturbingly realistic scene, towards Thandie Newton‘s characterChristine. These two meet later in a white-knuckle scene, their lives underthreat, with Dillon forced to suddenly face himself. It’s not a prettysight, and he deserves great credit for a darkly menacing, unhingedperformance. Dillon’s co-driver cop is Ryan Phillippe, in for arollercoaster ride himself as his boyish innocence makes a play on theviewer’s sympathies. Ultimately, judgement has to be reserved.
If all this sounds confusing, it is somewhat, but that’s life LA style- a confusing place! The class divide is more like a chasm between the top(Fraser) and towards the bottom (the excellent Bridges and Tate). Whatthe film manages to depict is the fatal mistake of forming judgement fartoo readily, long before you yourself are ready to be judged. Haggisoverdoes the racial tension theme at times, though – barely have we had achance to register a new character sometimes before they sound off.
None of these characters has an easy ride, and none of them complete thestory unscathed, be it physically or mentally. If you can stay withHaggis’s rapid scene developments, at times too rapid, you’ll experience athought provoking film.