Crash (2005)

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 02/28/06 21:57:37

"Crash-Course In Tolerance"
5 stars (Awesome)

'Crash', writer Paul Haggis’s(Million Dollar Baby) directorial debut, exists in a Dickensian world of coincidences where characters bump into each other and grow off each other in a tapestry that unravels itself in various segments and colours. So when some people opine that 'Crash' is too convenient for its own good, I cannot but sympathize with the lot. They are truly missing the point!

Crash is 9-10 stories, but essentially one subject. It’s an attempt by Haggis and fellow writer Bobby Moresco to present an unflinching look at cultural forbearance; be it racial, ethnic or national. And although the story and characters are from post 9/11 LA, the issues and the arguments that the narrative raises will ring true to any viewer in any part of the world. Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, is in many ways like Los Angeles- a melting pot of cultures where different races and castes co-exist, maintaining their homogeneity. Yet the calm is so tentative that you almost sense an undercurrent of simmering hostility ready to explode. But when it does, and it is this Herculean task that the filmmakers take on, can we sit back and rationally comprehend the reasons without being opinionated? Surprisingly, the answer is not really an answer at all. It’s an insight, and one that has spotless clarity. I hate to literally explain this, but beneath all the layers and complexities of racism and all the discriminating isms the root is not always prejudice.

Matt Dillon’s Officer Ryan is a racist cop who sexually molests Christine(Thandie Newton), a light skinned, whom he pulls over assuming to be a white woman performing oral favours on a black man, Cameron(Terrence Howard), whilst he’s driving. Sickened by Ryan’s behaviour, his partner Officer Hansen(Ryan Phillipe) requests for a change or a solo patrol. Cameron, an assistant film director, meanwhile is dealing with his own crisis, rebuked at not being black enough(he has mixed parentage) by his colleague and his wife. Two car-jacking buddies, Anthony(Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Peter(Larenz Tate), differ on their views of white-superiority and conditioned black stereotypes. Anthony is a firebrand raconteur of blaxploitation, making acute observations in the most banal situations; while Peter is an affirming believer in the larger scheme of things. Sandra Bullock is Jean, wife to District Attorney Rick(Brendan Fraser) who has had her fears come true in an incident that makes her racial reservations apparent. Rick on the other hand is intent on presenting himself as a tolerant DA, even if that means “pinning a black guy who’s just a dark-skinned Iraqi named Saddam!” Daniel(Michael Pena) is a locksmith, who looks like a homie just out of prison with tattoos et al. And that is what he’s mistaken for by most people including Farhad(Shaun Toub), a Persian store-owner erroneously assumed as an Arab. The fact though is that Daniel is an equally doting father to his daughter Lara(Ashlyn Sanchez) as Farhad is to his daughter Dorri(Bahar Soomekh). Lastly, we have two police detectives who are also lovers, Graham(Don Cheadle) and Ria(Jennifer Esposito). Graham, a nonbeliever in racial differences subtly denies his identity while being faced with a dilemma of wrongfully incriminating a white cop who incidentally has a track-record of shooting three blacks. Ria, on the other hand is troubled by Graham’s repeated erring of her nationality, calling her everything from a white to a Mexican.

At one point in the movie Dillon’s Ryan warns Hansen, “You think you know who you are. You have no idea!” Truer words can’t be said about the script. Haggis and Moresco establish the characters only to deconstruct them. Any opinions that you may have formed, and you will, will be altered till the closing screenshots of all the characters leave you with feelings of realization, acknowledgment, and redemption mingled with enlightenment.

Crash is an ensemble in its correct meaning. Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Magnolia, a film that Crash is heavily inspired by, the fine performances are what sieve the different threads into a smooth common element. Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser have never been better, despite their short screen time. Don Cheadle eases through a somewhat less-challenging role, while Jennifer Esposito finally gets an opportunity to prove her mettle and emerge from the shadow of the poor man’s Eva Mendes! Terrence Howard keeps it low until his face-off with Ryan Phillipe when he almost steals the whole movie. It’s heartening to see smaller actors perform admirably well in bigger roles- Michael Pena, Shaun Toub and Larenz Tate most notably. And hey! Who knew Ludacris can act? With the best lines and the meatiest role, Ludacris pounces on the opportunity to shine and does it with a remarkably natural flair. But the one act that remains with you after the movie is Matt Dillon’s. The Oscar nomination that he’s received for this show only underlines the longevity of his career which is topped by this nice icing of a performance. It helps that his character has the most complete story-arc of all. Thandie Newton then is the only sore spot in an otherwise pitch-perfect ensemble.

'Crash' has been labelled as a hackneyed film with clichéd ideas reproduced in a gimmicky format. Gimmicky as this quote may sound, but really “Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.” 'Crash' is my bet for the dark-horse at this year’s Academy Awards.

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