Is Paul Haggis coming into his own or what? Having written and directed some television shows and a few never-known movies over the years, his last two projects have been in a league of their own. Not only did he write last year's masterpiece "Million Dollar Baby," but "Crash," his racially-charged drama that is the only shining light so far this summer season, is a piece of art itself.
The movie, a collection of several overlapping yet distinct stories about racial tensions in Los Angeles, stars an ensemble cast that features the likes of Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate and even Tony Danza of all people. No one actor stands out among the rest, but all are good - no, really good. Ryan Phillipe, in a smaller yet pivotal role, is especially impressive. Okay, so I just said "no one actor stands out among the rest..." So sue me. No, please don't.
It's hard to explain the complexities about the movie without giving too much away, but "Crash" basically takes a look at the lives of several people, some white, some black, and some "in between," and points out the glaring flaws in today's "non-color-distinguishing society." Granted, the characters in this movie tend to be a little more extreme than the ordinary Joe. Bullock plays the wife of the District Attorney (Fraser), who gets robbed at gunpoint by a couple of black guys (Tate and Ludacris) and proceeds to freak out about a Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena), even though he's a devoted father and husband who has just moved his family to a better neighborhood. Dillon plays a racist cop who molests women he pulls over (in front of their husbands, no less) but who is also willing to put his life on the line to save the same people he despises. And Cheadle plays a detective forced to choose between the truth and an easy scapegoat in a murder case.
Haggis has directed a gem here. I wouldn't say "Crash" ever blows you away, and that combined with the fact that this movie was strangely released in May instead of November (though, judging by its financial success so far that appears to have been a good move, as it is likely to become the sleeper hit of the summer) may hurt its Oscar chances. Similar movies have been done in the past, but "Crash" is engaging, powerful and perfectly paced. Though the movie deals with so many stories simultaneously, Haggis has mapped out everything with ease; the character arcs cross from time to time and ultimately tie in altogether, but never with any confusion or cheesiness.
There are few if any flaws in "Crash," and it will undoubtedly be one of the best movies of the year. That being said, I never felt it reached maximum strength. By the end of this year, "Crash" will sadly be lost among the rush of November and December releases - unless Lions Gate gives it the advertising push it deserves. "Crash" is highly recommended and all but guaranteed to satisfy.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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