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Crash

Crash

Rated R, 100 min. Directed by Paul Haggis. Starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Loretta Devine.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 6, 2005

There is a visual image that dominates Crash from its opening credits: blurred spheres of light moving in a seemingly random fashion, sometimes colliding soundlessly, only to continue on their uncertain paths. These abstract illuminations, of course, are headlights floating along the streets of Los Angeles, an urban landscape in which a car accident is the most common form of personal interaction. Set over a 24-hour period during an unusually cold Christmas season, Crash follows the intertwined lives of a multicultural group of Los Angelenos: two African-American carjackers, a Brentwood housewife, a Latino locksmith, a Persian store owner, and a white policeman, among others. The brilliantly conceived screenplay by Paul Haggis and Bob Moresco employs a narrative device made familiar to moviegoers in the films of Robert Altman (Nashville) and more recently Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), one in which the paths of seemingly unconnected individuals frequently cross according to the laws of contrivance and coincidence. In Crash, the multiplicity of storylines is rooted in the script’s theme about the complex nature of human beings. Normal social intercourse, for many of the film’s characters, is defined primarily by preconceived notions about the color of a person’s skin, the type of car he drives, the number of tattoos on his body, his line of work, and so on. Because racial stereotypes and prejudices form most of our uninformed judgments about others, the dialogue in Crash abounds in ethnic slurs and swipes that leave few unscathed. With a greater purpose in mind, this bold and often darkly funny film invites you to make comfortable judgments about its myriad characters based on these first impressions, and to pigeonhole them in uncomplicated, black-and-white terms, not much differently from the way those characters judge and perceive each other. But just when it seems that things are about to reach an explosive boiling point in the City of Angels, something surprising begins to happen in Crash. In one of the most beautifully directed, scored, and edited sequences in recent movie memory, a "villain" in the film acts selflessly, contrary to the expectations you've imposed on him. At this point, Crash starts to rattle your chain in a way that few films have, bearing lucid witness to the full dimensionality of the human species. It’s not a matter of showing the good and bad attributes in everyone – the film thankfully doesn’t fall into that diametric trap – but rather a matter of reminding us that the filters through which we estimate a person’s character can obscure as much as they reveal. Indeed, the film’s final shot is a God’s-eye view of Los Angeles, suggesting that only an omniscient cosmos can truly judge us for who we are. The entire ensemble cast is superb, with Dillon giving a standout performance as an LAPD cop for whom you feel equal measures of disdain and compassion. Equally memorable is rap performer Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as a thief with a skewed social conscience. (You get the impression that all of the actors relished sinking their teeth in this meaty material.) First-time director Haggis (he wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) rarely misses a beat here, achieving that which the most experienced of filmmakers have only dreamed of. Like most works of art, Crash gets under your skin in a way that is incapable of explanation. It transcends that which can be articulated through mere words. Because no pithy review, no matter how well intentioned, can possibly do this film justice, you really have no choice but to see Crash. It’s the most compelling American movie to come around in a long, long time.
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