Vividly played out by a multiethnic cast of characters, Crash is a topnotch ensemble piece which unflinchingly examines post-9/11 America's continuing battle with racial tolerance.
Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito) get into a car accident en route to investigate a murdered body found in a canyon overlooking Los Angeles. Ria is ready to snap necks, but Graham explains, ''It's the sense of touch I think we miss that sense of touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.'' He ain't kiddin'. Crash begins at the end, after 24 hours that have not only irrevocably changed Graham's life but also the lives of several other L.A. denizens who have inadvertently collided with one another. We go back to the previous day and meet an angry Brentwood housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her D.A. husband (Brendan Fraser), who have their car stolen at gunpoint by two carjackers (Larenz Tate and Chris ''Ludacris''
Bridges); a paranoid Persian store owner (Shaun Toub) who tangles with a kindly Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena); a rookie LAPD cop (Ryan Phillippe) and his veteran partner (Matt Dillon) who harass an affluent black couple (Terrence Howard and Thandie
Newton) and then later, ironically, save them in separate, hair-raising incidents. Black and white, victim and aggressor, there doesn't seem to be a right or a wrong as things escalate and culminate. The only common thread is the fact that life is too short to be filled with fear and intolerance.
The all-star cast is nothing less than spectacular. Cheadle tops the list as the beleaguered detective who keeps people, including his partner and sometimes lover Esposito, at a distance, making his inevitable speech about touch even more poignant. This Oscar-nominated actor has the unique gift of lifting a scene to a whole new level just by sitting in silence. Bullock steps out of her America's Sweetheart box for a little while and plays the bigoted but lonely housewife, while Fraser plays her workaholic husband with stoic detachment. As the cops, Dillon, giving one of his better performance to date, and Phillippe aptly represent the two sides of the same coin: the racist careworn veteran, whose vulnerability is revealed in a subtle way, and the idealistic newcomer, whose anxiety-ridden day takes its toll in a tragic way. Howard and Newton also turn in superb performances as, respectively, a television director, who hardly ever makes waves, and his emotionally wounded wife, who can't believe her husband won't fight for her. Most of the more comical moments, if you can call them that, are provided by Tate (A Man Apart) and Bridges, who emerges as yet another rapper who can act. His diatribes about racial relations are spot on. And lastly, Crash's most heartening moments come from Pena (TV's The Shield). One night, to allay his young daughter's fears, he creates an invisible cloak that will forever protect her from harm--only to see it put to the test. It just rips your heart right out of your chest.
Television writer Paul Haggis, who makes his directorial feature debut with Crash, says his ''aim with this film is to explore how intolerance is a collective problem.'' He should know. Living in Los Angeles, he and his wife were once carjacked at gunpoint. Luckily, no one was hurt, but that one fateful night forced him out of complacency. Suddenly, he wasn't immune. But more importantly, he began thinking about who these carjackers were, what kind of lives they lead--and Crash was born. Los Angeles is the perfect setting, as the characters move around independently, in their cars and in their homes. This insulated atmosphere only heightens the tension in the film. Real danger lurks on every frame--even in the lighter moments--and it's so gut-wrenching at times it's hard to watch. But just when you are certain some tragedy is about to occur, Crash switches gears and surprises you. Of course, films of this nature--such as Grand Canyon and Boyz N The Hood, which do everything possible to get you to think and react--can also come off a tad preachy at times. In Crash's case, it's a sermon we ought to listen to. You'll be hard pressed not to recognize, at least to some degree, a small part of yourself up there on screen.
Every once in a while you need a movie like this to come crashing down on you. To shake you up, make you think about the world around you, and, one would hope, to open yourself up to the possibilities of our shared humanity.