Crash – the 2004 movie written and directed by Paul Haggis – is excellent. I missed it in its first theatrical release, but it is still playing in the second run theaters in Winnipeg. Haggis is a Canadian who made it in LA, writing for TV. I liked his work on Due South. He made a move to feature films a few years ago and his screenplay for Million-Dollar Baby has been highly praised.
His membership in the Church of Scientology was in the news when he left it in 2009.
Crash follows several sets of unrelated characters as they run into each other, over the course of couple of days. Two young black men jack the District Attorney’s car, freaking out his wife – Sandra Bulloch is brilliant as a self-centered, privileged bitch, proving that she can act outside the box. When they get home, she had her husband change the locks, then complains loudly that she does not trust the Hispanic locksmith, Daniel (Michael Pena). Daniel absorbs the abuse quietly, goes home and finds his daughther hiding under the bed. He has moved his family to a safe neighbourhood, but she was frightened by the sound of distant gunfire. He gives her a magic inpenetrable cloak, in a beautiful scene of parental love. Farhad (Shaun Toub), the owner of small convenience store, middle-aged, Iranian, fearful, paranoid, buys a snub-nosed revolver from a racist gun store owner. Two cops pull over a black producer and his white wife – their car is a Navigator like the DA’s car, although the licence plate doesn’t match. The senior cop, Sgt. Ryan (Matt Dillon) harasses and abuses the couple. He is a racist, grieving and angry about his father’s health, carrying a grudge against affirmative action programs which drove his father out of business and into poverty. Don Cheadle, playing a homicide investigator, is drawn into the DA’s orbit when he investigates shooting of a black, off-duty police officer shot by a white police officer. The DA and his sleazy political operative want him to spin the investigation and suppress evidence make sure a white man gets charged because the DA is worried about the black vote. Cheadle’s character is navigating grief and shame – a drug addicted mother who wants him to save his younger brother, missing, and a criminal. He is having an affair with his partner Rea (Jennifer Esposito) but keeping his distance, wounding her with racial remarks about Hispanics.
The acting is brilliant, characters are engaging, the mood and pace of the film are maintained well, the story drives forward. It is an emotionally engaging, intellectually challenging story of conflict and ethics.
For the first half hour, every character except the locksmith Daniel is angry and self-absorbed, unattractive, unworthy of any sympathy from the audience. Some are fearful, some have more power, some feel oppressed, some feel screwed. No one trusts anyone. Everyone thinks he or she is alone, unsupported and vulnerable. Enemies and threats are identified by logical but stereotyped profiles. Everyone lashes out verbally. Racial conflict runs through everything. The metaphor isn’t as much urban jungle or state of nature as human atoms colliding randomly, with terrible energy.
I won’t spoil it. There is violence, and people die. There are moments of redemption – heroism, random acts of kindness, arcs of anger and violence suddenly failing by chance, moments of grace.