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The new movie, Crash by Canadian writer/director Paul Haggis should not be confused with the movie, Crash by Canadian writer/director, David Cronenberg. The earlier Cronenberg movie involves a bunch of people, including Holly Hunter and James Spader, who get aroused by seeing or being in a car crash. The new Crash has a slightly more conventional plot but is much more searing to watch. It tells the very interconnected story of a group of people who live in Los Angeles. The large ensemble cast includes a bunch of cops (Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillipe, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito), the District Attorney (Brendan Fraser), his high-society wife (Sandra Bullock), his minions (Nona Gaye, William Fichtner), a couple of carjackers (Larenz Tate, Ludacris), a movie director (Terrence Dashon Howard), his high-society wife (Thandie Newton), an Iranian-American shop owner (Shaun Toub), his daughter (Bahar Soomekh), an Hispanic locksmith (Michael Peña) and many other familar faces including Tony Danza, Loretta Devine, Marina Sirtis, and Keith David. The cast is a bit overwhelming but then so is the movie. The story is very tangled but the theme is that all of these people, whether they are white, black, Hispanic, Iranian, or Asian, are racist. It suggests that they all have a stereotyped view of the other races and explores how these views are true and not true. But at a very basic level this movie is about human nature and how none of us can be all good or all bad. In particular, Crash forces the characters that we think are "good" to do terrible things and those that we think are "bad" to do wonderful things.
But, oh man, what a movie! This may be the most traumatic movie I've seen since Saving Private Ryan. Crash is aptly named. You come out of Crash feeling like you've been in a crash. You feel like you've been through all the terrible things the the characters in the film have to endure. In a lot of ways, Crash is very similar to Altman ensemble films like The Player where every character is connected to each other in some strange way that plays out as the story unfolds. Altman got this technique from Charles Dickens who loved this kind of plot. But the Altman films, while they have their serious moments, are a bit whimsical. There is nothing whimsical about Crash. It is unrelentingly dark. One of the uncomfortable things about this film is that it is all about a subject which no one talks about anymore, race relations. Of course, the LAPD is famous for the sensitive way its cops deal with race relations. But Crash goes much further and suggests that LAPD is really a microcosm of LA, and for that matter, for the whole world. In my own microcosm here in the other LA, Crash seems to be bringing the races together. Depending on what movie is big that week, my local multiplex often seems to be all black or all white. At least for my showing of Crash, we had one of the few biracial audiences I have experienced for a non-blockbuster movie.
Crash was written and directed by Paul Haggis, who most recently was nominated for an Oscar for writing Million Dollar Baby. His previous directing gigs include Due South and ThirtySomething so Crash is a bit of a departure. This film is very well put together and it has a great cast. Don Cheadle seems to be specializing in depressing roles lately (Hotel Rwanda, Traffic). At least, he had a break doing the wacked-out bomb-maker Basher in Ocean's 11 and 12. It's hard to pick out the other bright spots in this cast without making this review many pages long but I will mention Matt Dillon who keeps turning up in good roles just when you think he is long gone. The one person who seems uncomfortable in Crash is Sandra Bullock who is also playing against type. There are a few interesting cameos. Tony Danza is pretty scary as an actor on the set of Howard's movie. And, see if you can identify Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation). I saw her name in the closing credits and had to figure out which part she played.
Actually Crash is a remake of Contact. When Ellie meets the Alien who looks like her father, he says, "You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other." This is almost exactly what Don Cheadle says in the opening soliloquy of Crash.