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(Movie Review by Oshram ) I knew very little about “Crash” going in; actually, it wasn’t even my idea to go, but a friend talked about seeing it, and I was torn apathetically between the new tepid-looking Jet Li film and the new, fairly unappealing LL Cool J film. Since I couldn’t decide which movie I wanted to skip less, I decided to go with a third, which had a cast consisting of Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, and Ryan Philippe. Granted, the cast doesn’t always make the film, but put enough good people in the same project and usually there’s something to enjoy.
“Crash” deals with an automobile accident that touches the lives of several people in L.A. Cheadle leads the movie as Graham, a police Detective who is rear-ended at a crime scene, a situation that kicks off the movie. The rest of the two hours reveals how we got to that particular crime scene, following the threads of several different, seemingly disconnected lives and showing how in fact they all influence one another without ever meaning to.
As a movie, “Crash” does not always come together. In fact, it’s a little hard to get into because we aren’t given anyone to latch onto, and at the very start the movie stakes a claim that deep down where they live, everybody is pretty much a prick. (Perhaps with the exception of a character named Daniel, played by Michael Pena). The people we meet are not always sympathetic (Sandra Bullock plays a racist jerk) but they are always honest and real, even if they are unpleasant. Rapper Ludacris in particular is saddled with a character that could have been played as comedy — the young black male who sees an anti-black motivation to everything in the whole world. But within the context of “Crash”, the character comes off as realistic.
Where “Crash” excels is in betraying your expectations. One person is set up to be sympathetic, but turns out to be a jerk; another is set up as a jerk, but turns out to have a solid core. Which isn’t to say every character has a twist, and not every situation relies on irony, but there’s enough there to make a central theme in the film. In lesser hands, this could have played out poorly, but “Crash” is so deftly orchestrated by writer/director Paul Haggis (who also wrote Clint Eastwood’s critically acclaimed and award winning “Million Dollar Baby”) that the film offers moments of dramatic payoff most movies can never hope to achieve. And some of them, you don’t even see coming, which is even more welcome.
In particular, Bullock’s obnoxious character is given a brief moment so strong toward the end that it brought tears to my eyes. Likewise a speech given by Cameron, a black TV producer (played expertly by Terrence Howard) to Ludacris’ thug character at the end also resonates. Ryan Philippe (“Way of the Gun”) has a few excellent scenes, though his is a lesser role than some of the others. The film’s two most powerful scenes spring from directly opposing desires in the viewer — one an act you desperately don’t want to see happen, and one you do.
Matt Dillon plays a racist cop who is forced to come to the aid of a woman he harassed; the initial scenes with their characters don’t play out that strongly, but when they confront one another in a life and death situation, the emotion is so powerful it leaps off the screen. Likewise, the one wholly positive character in the film, Daniel, captures our sympathy almost at once, and his scenes with his daughter are tender and unaffected. As a result, when the girl is suddenly put in danger, the viewer can’t help but react strongly.
“Crash” offers no easy answers, and everyone in the film must come to some difficult realization about themselves. It’s not always an easy film to digest, and it plays with some ugly truths about people and our society. But its very lack of a pat ending, its unwillingness to wrap up the story in any sort of convenient way, make it a much stronger film. Though not a flawless piece of work, “Crash” is so strong in so many areas that even though we have more than six months left, it’s hard to contemplate a better film being released this year.
Paul Haggis (director) / Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco (screenplay)
CAST: Sandra Bullock …. Jean
Don Cheadle …. Graham
Matt Dillon …. Officer Ryan
Jennifer Esposito …. Ria
Thandie Newton …. Christine
Ryan Phillippe …. Officer Hanson