Dir. Paul Haggis, 2004, USA/Germany, 112 mins
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate
Set in present day Los Angeles, Crash is a drama about racial tensions in the city, telling a series of interconnected stories about a variety of characters, including a young District Attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) who have their car stolen by two carjackers (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); two detectives (Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito) who are involved with each other, and a black television director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton), who are pulled over in their car by a bigoted cop (Matt Dillon) and his rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe) who is put off by his partner's behaviour. All of the characters have a series of encounters over two days that changes their lives forever, and the film attempts to show how intolerance and discrimination are part of contemporary life in LA, despite the fact that a wide range of races and religions live side by side.
Although the film's intention to examine the racial tensions in LA is commendable, Crash rarely offers a new perspective on emotive issues that affect everyone. So many of the plots and characters are conveniently interconnected that the film feels too neatly organised, with every story resolved too easily. The coincidences that link the characters feel like plot contrivances concocted by a screenwriter instead of a series of natural events that have thrown a group of disparate people together. Still, the entire cast are convincing in their roles and there are a few interesting subplots that offer a fresh perspective on familiar issues. One story shows how Fraser's DA cynically uses a race related issue to boost his own profile and divert media attention away from his carjacking by two black youths. Other small details are subtly effective, including a shot towards the end of the film showing Fraser's female black assistant (Nona Gaye) watching as a set of lift doors shut her out a lift containing Fraser's DA. For much of the time though, the film often discusses race-related issues in quite a few heavy-handed talky scenes.
A film like Do The Right Thing (1989) also showed how suppressed racial tensions in a mixed neighbourhood can explode and tear apart a community, and that it's a complex issue that's not easily resolved. The fact that Spike Lee's film was made over 15 years ago and has lost none of its impact or relevance perhaps says more about racial tensions in America than Crash does. It's admirable that Crash has been made and that filmmakers are willing to tackle such a difficult issue but, bar one or two occasions, this film concocts neat and tidy solutions to messy real life problems, rarely investigating why racial issues are exploited by certain people, or why fear and resentment between races continues to occur in contemporary society. Crash feels similar to Magnolia (1999), another LA based, sprawling, multi character narrative, but Paul Thomas Anderson's film tapped deeply into each of his character's anxieties and insecurities more effectively, and wove his many characters fates together more skilfully. Director Harris' motives are commendable, but overall the resulting film feels like it's going over old ground without being particularly enlightening or revelatory.
© Martyn Bamber, August 2005
Pathé Distribution Ltd. have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of Crash (2-Disc Ultimate Edition) for 28th August 2006 priced at £19.99. This definitive new version features an extended Director’s Cut main feature, with an introduction by Paul Haggis, an updated commentary from Paul Haggis, actor / executive producer Don Cheadle and producer Bobby Moresco plus deleted scenes with optional commentary. A selection of comprehensive featurettes is also included, along with an extended Making Of documentary – Behind the Metal and Glass.