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CRASH Review - Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe Paul Haggis

Ryan Phillippe, Crash
Ryan Phillippe, Crash

Crash, screenwriter Paul Haggis' multiple award-winning directorial début, is set in a Los Angeles that is part Quentin Tarantino, part Paul Thomas Anderson, part Spike Lee, and part Bret Easton Ellis. Haggis' L.A. is also a place that has precious little in common with the Southern California metropolis located on Planet Earth.

Watching Crash, we learn that the Angeleno boiling – definitely not melting – pot is about to explode at any moment. According to Haggis and co-screenwriter Bobby Moresco, Los Angeles denizens spend all their spare time hating, fearing, misunderstanding, and cheating on one another. And perhaps much of that is true, except that most of that hate, fear, misunderstanding, and cheating have absolutely nothing to do with ethnic or national differences. But not in Haggis and Moresco's L.A., where everything revolves around skin color and nationality.

Subtlety is a word that is unfortunately missing from Haggis' film dictionary. Million Dollar Baby, which he adapted for the screen, features mostly one-dimensional characters, while Crash is chiefly a parade of ethno-oriented verbal and physical assaults interspersed among different subplots tied together by contrived “coincidences.”

Thus, we go from the heavily accented Chinese lashing out at white Americans who then lash out at black Americans who lash out at other white Americans who lash out at Iranians who lash out at Hispanic Americans who apparently work so hard they don't have the energy to lash out at anyone. At the other extreme, Sandra Bullock, the epitome of white, bourgeois racism and xenophobia, has plenty of time to lash out at just about anyone who doesn't look or sound like her.

Larenz Tate, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges in Crash

On the positive side, Crash boasts a number of solid performances, particularly those of Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe as police officers, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges (above, on the right, with Larenz Tate) as a race-obsessed thug, and Thandie Newton as the high-strung wife of a television director. Additionally, Mark Isham's affecting minimalist score and the production's generally excellent technical credits help to add depth to Haggis and Moresco's screenplay. Yet, none of those elements – or the couple of plot twists that ring true – are enough to lift Crash out of its inherent simple-mindedness.

At the end of the film, instead of frogs falling from the sky à la Magnolia we get some much-needed snow to cool things down. The melting pot will keep on simmering, but the heavens won't let it explode into a zillion pieces. Considering all the psychopaths who inhabit Haggis and Moresco's Los Angeles, that is just too bad.

Crash (2005). Dir.: Paul Haggis. Scr.: Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris 'Ludacri's Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Michael Peña, Shaun Toub.

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2 Comments to CRASH Review - Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe Paul Haggis

  1. Andre

    Many thanks, Nathan.

  2. I think this is actually one of the best reviews I've read of Crash. Why? Because it treats it exactly as it should be treated. Not as some life-altering brilliant work of fiction, nor as one of the worst disgraces to ever appear on screen. It's a pretty middle of the road kind of movie in which a very talented cast and clearly well-executed technical credits are unfortunately overshadowed by a sad simplemindedness concerning an issue that is perhaps the most complicated and multi-faceted issue in America. To boil things down to essentially “we all judge based on race”, or even more simply “we all have a tendency to be a little racist” misses the mark by a mile. There's no subtlety in Haggis and Moresco's screenplay to suggest that perhaps what drives us is not just the exterior. Matt Dillon's character comes the closest, especially when he finally begins to question his own moral and ethical code. Why didn't the whole movie treat its characters with this much care? Why are we instead treated to such one-dimensionality? Ludacris gives us perhaps the second most-realized character in the sense that he feels like a real person. Being a black man from a poverty-stricken part of town, it's not hard to understand why HIS lenses are colored by race. But unfortunately, this is a character that we've seen all-too-often in much greater films. It's all frustrating to say the least.

    I will say that I agree that Mark Isham's score is beautiful. I think at times I overlooked many of the film's contrivances because the score was so good.

    At the end of the day, Crash will always be remembered, not because it made an indelible mark on American cinema, but because in the end it overshadowed another movie that did. But that's a conversation and debate that has been talked and fought to oblivion. I need not rehash it here.