An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            If you want to understand “Crash,” listen closely and you’ll be rewarded.  Paul Haggis obviously feels so strongly about sub-surface racial tension that he has written, directed, and structured the screenplay as a vehicle for his beliefs.  

            That philosophy is painted here in primary colors.  Don’t look for subtlety.  Paul Haggis is too angry for nuance.  He wants to shred political correctness and force us to face his truth.  He paints on the big American canvas of Los Angeles with all the problems that develop in a culture of unresolved racial tension in an immigrant culture.  Haggis hits us hard with an opening car crash that lights a fuse that burns toward all the people he wants to use to convey his message.  It is an actual crash of vehicles and a metaphorical crash of people who would otherwise not have met.  “In L.A.,” one crash victim says, “nobody touches you; we crash just so someone can touch us.”

            The movie might easily have been called “A Day in the Life of Don Cheadle (detective), Jennifer Esposito (his lover), Brendan Fraser (the D.A.), Sandra Bullock (his rich, angry wife), Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe (cops on the beat), Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard (a successful filmmaking couple), Michael Pena and Shaun Toub (a locksmith and an Iranian shopkeeper), and Larenz Tate and Chris Bridges (criminals).  Mr. Bridges’ sublime real-life name is Ludacris.  Sorting this big crowd is not imperative because each person is there to deliver Mr. Haggis’ conviction that good and bad struggle within every one of us. 

            All the actors, without exception, do well by the various degrees of anger, resentment, and decency inherent in this philosophy.  Just watch for the emotions let loose by the violent events – a crash, a shooting, another crash, a theft.  Each triggers the release of the real feelings Mr. Haggis believes are covered in daily life with a thin layer of civility and political correctness.  Don’t look for good guys and bad guys here.  This is all about the reality of the human response to fear.  The movie makes it clear that we have no place to hide, that everyone contains an inner set of contradictions whether they admit it or not. 

            Unleashed in crisis, the true feelings and secret fears of each character explode at one point or another in a highly personal moral collision of decency, diminishment, rage, and redemption.  How would you react if everything you did were suspect because you were black, if your car were stolen at gunpoint because you were white, if you were a hardworking Iranian shopkeeper robbed by a Hispanic, if you were so rich that everyone seemed a threat, if your Asian features drew vicious racial epithets from an Hispanic?  We are not asked to consider these questions so much as we are shot by them, cannonballs to the value system we think we embrace.  Paul Haggis wants these questions out on the table.


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