© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrance Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Lorenz Tate, Michael Pena
Director: Paul Haggis
Writers: Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco
Distributor: Bull’s Eye Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content, violence, drug and alcohol
Running Time: 113 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10
At first glance, CRASH is an interesting title for a film that really is not about car or plane or train crashes. Those looking for mind-blowing car chasing and crashing scenes would be sorely disappointed. As a human drama, however, CRASH is a perfect metaphorical title on so many levels.
The film opens with an apparent car crash in Los Angeles. Detective Graham (Cheadle) is on site when he discovers a body. The film then flashes back to the day before and follows a number of characters whose lives seem to interconnect with one another. Graham and his partner Ria (Espposito) are also lovers. They’re investigating a case involving a cop killing another cop. Meanwhile, two black men, Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Tate) discuss racial issues before they carjack district attorney Rick (Fraser) and his wife Jean (Bullock). Across town, white Officer Ryan (Dillon) and Hanson (Phillippe) stop an SUV that belongs to black TV director Cameron (Howard) and his wife Christine (Newton). Cameron and Hanson watch as Ryan verbally abuses and molests Christine.
It’s probably impossible for me to detail the whole plot, since it is so intricate, weaving all the characters in a web of interconnected stories. These characters and the events surrounding them eventually lead to the “crash” in the opening scene. Writer-director Haggis (MILLION DOLLAR BABY) does a commendable job in delivering us a complex, multi-layered story with a huge cast with clarity and a great pace. Never are we confused about who these people are, and how they fit in the whole puzzle. It takes great writing and directing skills to pull that off. In a way, this kind of storytelling is not new (one only needs to watch MAGNOLIA to appreciate this genre), but it is fascinating nevertheless. It has enough details, hints and foreshadowing that we feel as if we need to watch it a second time to catch them all.
It’s not to say the script is without flaws. The biggest problem I have with the film is that it’s too meticulous and sometimes too on the nose. From the outset we realize this is a story about racial tensions and issues, and yes, Los Angeles is a great setting for a thematic story like CRASH. But do we have to be reminded every minute about the racial differences, misunderstanding and injustice? Some of the major emotional scenes are simply too melodramatic. Not to mention Haggis relies too much on coincidence. After a while, our suspension of disbelief begins to crumble: “Oh, come on! This is a city of 12 million people. What are the odds of that happening?”
The all-star cast does a great job in their ensemble roles. Cheadle (HOTEL RWANDA) is intense as the conflicted detective who tries to make something out of his life. Dillon (CITY OF GHOSTS) is in fine form as one of the most complex characters in the film. The scene with him molesting Newton (CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK) would sure make our blood boil. Rapper Ludacris (2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) also turns in an admirable performance as the con man with a big chip on his shoulder. Bullock (MISS CONGENIALITY) plays against type as a bitchy, angry and racist wife. Pena (CALCIUM KID) makes us believe in what is probably the kindest and most affecting character in the whole film. They are the standouts in the large cast.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this film is the characters. They are mostly flawed, complex people but they all seem so real. The actors do their part in breathing life to these characters, and you believe their authenticity, no matter how little screen time they have. And their stories, no matter how contrite at times, do offer us a crash course on the fragility of human relationships.