Crash May 12, 2005

In Los Angeles, a detective Graham, (Don Cheadle) investigates the site where the body of a young man was found. He recognizes the young man and his mind flashes back to yesterday.

Two young black men (Ludacris and Larenz Tate) cruise a mall in the very white San Fernando Valley. They discuss racism and cross the path of Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock.) When Jean sees the young men, she is afraid and instinctively draws closer to her husband. The two young black men comment on it and then car jack their SUV. Jean is terrified at home, and criticizes her husband for letting a Hispanic man change the locks. On their way to a chop shop, the two black men hit an Asian man unintentionally. They argue about saving him or running him over.  In another part of town, an Iranian shop owner and his daughter buy a gun to protect themselves. The store’s proprietor  (Jack McGee) is intolerant of the man’s poor English; they get into an argument. The daughter ends up buying the gun. Back in the valley, two cops Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Hanson (Ryan Phillippe) are watching for Rick’s stolen SUV, and see another SUV and some possible activity going on inside. They stop the car with Cameron (Terrence Dashon Howard) and Christine (Thandie Newton), and they get into an argument. Ryan molests Christine as he frisks her while Cameron stays silent. Hanson is shocked and at the end of his shift asks for a transfer. Meanwhile, Ryan tries to deal with the health insurance supervisor for his dad’s HMO. When he learns her name is Shaniqua (Loretta Divine) he makes racial comments.

And around and around on a human journey we go. 

If you saw the trailer/preview for Crash, masterfully co-written (with Robert Moresco) and directed by Paul Haggis (E-Z Streets, Million Dollar Baby) you may have, like me, thought it deserved an award all by itself. 

Crash is an LA film noir tale of about 24 hours in the lives of a racially and culturally diverse group of people whose lives, decisions and choices intersect and impact strangers in ways only a film can devise.

This is no ordinary film; it is unconventionally written in a circle rather than in the usual linear style. It is the Butterfly Effect “or more technically the ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’, the essence of chaos” as described by Lorenz in 1963 and 1972. The chaos is Los Angeles, the metaphor for human interaction.

At first the film may seem to be about racism or crime or fear in a city that breeds all of these, but keeps going, day after day. And it is about those things. But at its heart, it is about the choices we make and their consequences; it is about conscience and morality, the good choices and the bad ones and their effect on complete strangers as well as the characters themselves. 

I think the film is also doing theology, it is faith seeking understanding. It takes place at Christmas time and Nativity scenes form the backdrop for the incidents. One of the young black men has a St. Christopher statue that he places on the dashboard of every car he steals; another character has the same statue. What the St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, as well as Christ’s birth, mean and the subtle connection of the story to Divine Providence, is not lost on the audience. Finally, the film is about sin and redemption; life, the journey.

Crash seems to have a cast of thousands (I could not recall all the names), yet it works. We are here on this earth together and human beings are capable to great good and great evil, and sometimes both. Crash is difficult to watch because of the moral chaos it portrays, but it is best film I have seen in a long time.

One time as I was leaving a theater in Culver City I asked a young woman what she thought of the film we had just seen. She told me and then she said, “I have lived in LA for two years and you are the first perfect stranger to even acknowledge my presence here, or speak to me.” This is the kind of experience Haggis taps into.

The acting is excellent and the audience can empathize with some of the characters and recognize all of them. Sandra Bullock plays against type and shows she is a mature actress. All the actors are exceptional.

When Paul Haggis’ short-lived TV series EZ Streets was running in 1996, I knew I was looking at some of the best television I had ever seen. Dark, yes, but truthful and human. Haggis understands the darkness; he knows truth and this backlights goodness and somewhere we know, there is beauty.

This film has to be an awards contender. Perfect chiaroscuro.

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  • chasingmoksha

    I live out here too, and people look straight through me.  Nothing like the south.