By Shawn McKenzie 05/06/2005
Racism affects people in various degrees. There are people who have unintended biases against people of another race, then there are people who are just racist out of blind fear or anger. Paul Haggis, the Emmy-winning writer who was nominated this year for Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, makes his wide release theatrical directorial debut with Crash (not to be confused with David Cronenberg’s 1996 sexual thriller of the same name.) The title connects the underlying theme about racism in Los Angeles, told through several stories that connect to one another and involving a couple of car crashes. While the acting is excellent, I had a couple of problems with the story.
The stories all weave together over a span of a couple of days in L.A. Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner and lover, Ria (Jennifer Esposito), were just involved in a car accident. While checking out the accident, he is disturbed by the sight of an unidentified dead male along the side of the road. It’s possible that he is bothered by it because of his rocky relationship with Ria and with his mother (Beverly Todd), who keeps nagging him to find his missing brother. The day before that, white District Attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser), and his white upper society wife, Jean (Sandra Bullock), are carjacked by black car thieves Peter (Larenz Tate) and Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), who intend to bring it to a chop shop owned by Georgie (Ime N. Etuk.) Along the way, they accidentally run over Choi Lee (Greg Joung Paik), a Korean man who was walking along the side of the road. They drop Choi off at the hospital and go on to the chop shop. Later, his wife Kim (Alexis Rhee) visits Choi in the hospital. As for Rick and Jean, the carjacking affects them in different ways. Rick thinks that the incident will affect his reelection campaign. He and his team, including assistants Flanagan (William Fichtner) and Karen (Nona Gaye), are also concerned about an incident involving a racist detective named Conklin (Martin Norseman) who accidentally shot and killed another detective (who happened to be black) and his white girlfriend. The case also involves Detective Waters at one point. Jean finds herself reexamining her prejudices in an attempt to understand what happened. She didn’t want to appear racist, but the fact that two black thugs had just carjacked her makes her suspicious of everyone. One of those people that Jean is suspicious of is a Mexican locksmith named Daniel Ruiz (Michael Peña), who Rick had hired to replace their house’s locks. She thinks that Daniel looks like a gangbanger, which hurts him, because he is a family man with a 5-year-old daughter named Lara (Ashlyn Sanchez.) Daniel later has to calm down a frightened Lara who had been hiding under her bed. She is frightened by the memory of a stray gunshot that went through their window in their old neighborhood. He calms her down by giving her an “invisible cloak” that is supposed to protect her from harm. Later that night, Daniel is called to fix the lock of a shop owned by a Persian man named Farhad (Shaun Toub) and his wife Shereen (Marina Sirtis.) Earlier that day, his adult daughter, Dorri (Bahar Soomekh), had helped him purchase a gun from a gun store so that Farhad would feel safer. The gun store owner (Jack McGee) doesn’t exactly help ease her own tensions when she doesn’t even know what bullets to purchase. Anyway…Daniel tries to replace the lock of the store’s door, but he notices that the door itself needs to be replaced. He recommends that Farhad should replace the door, not just the lock, but Farhad accuses Daniel of ripping him off. Daniel leaves having not replaced the lock, and ironically, the store is ransacked later that night. Since he ignored the advice of the locksmith, the insurance company refuses to cover the damages to the store. Farhad blames Daniel for the damage to his store, so he takes the gun and heads over to find Daniel. Meanwhile…Officers Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Hansen (Ryan Phillippe) stop a successful black TV director named Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) during a routine traffic stop on Ventura Boulevard. Ryan harasses the couple and sexually fondles Christine in an act of racial frustration. The incident affects all four of them in different ways. For Cameron, it affects his marriage to Christine and his effectiveness on the job. He is the director of a sitcom where a black character is acting a little “too white.” The producer of the sitcom, Fred (Tony Danza), wants the character to be “more black.” Later, he takes his frustrations out by participating in a high-speed car chase. For Christine, she feels violated, and she can’t understand why Cameron didn’t do anything to stop it. Later on, she gets into a car crash and is helped by none other than Ryan. For Ryan, his actions are the result of his frustrations over not getting any insurance for his father (Bruce Kirby) from a black HMO worker named Shaniqua (Loretta Devine.) His father has a urinary tract infection, and he tries to explain this to Shaniqua. She is offended by his racist attitude, so she denies him (Ryan’s dad, for some odd reason, doesn’t seem to be equally racist, so where Ryan got his racist attitude is unknown.) When Ryan saves Christine’s life, he feels somewhat atoned. For Hansen, he can’t stomach his partner’s actions. He asks his black boss, Lt. Dixon (Keith David), for a transfer, but since Ryan is a 17-year veteran on the force, he says that Hansen will have to suck it up. Dixon eventually honors this request, and later that night, Hansen picks up a hitchhiker, which results in tragedy. All of the characters are either redeemed or haunted by their actions.
The stories were very interesting, but I had a couple problems with them. Haggis wrote the screenplay with Robert Moresco, another TV writer. The biggest problem I had was that it seemed a little too coincidental that so many characters had racial issues all at the same time. One or two I could understand, but when almost every character, including the minor ones, had a racial issue, it started getting a little silly. Also, I had an issue with Farhad’s story. When he confronts Daniel with his gun, it ends up venturing into the realm of science fiction…meaning what happens is so unbelievable that it would only happen in the world of science fiction. I don’t want to give away what happens, but I think you will find yourself saying “Oh come on!”
Other than that, the acting is excellent all around. I would bring out the dreaded “Oscar” word, but unfortunately, I don’t seeing anyone getting any nods. It’s not that they don’t deserve them; that is just the politics of the Academy. First, the movie is being released in May, and usually Oscar contenders are released after September (mainly in November and December I’ve noticed.) Second, with the cast being so huge, there aren’t enough kudos to go around. I don’t need to give the umpteenth commendation to critical favorites like Cheadle, Newton, Howard, and Tate, all of which are well respected African-American actors (Cheadle himself went to high school in Denver, so I always support anyone who hails from Colorado.) The surprises might come from people who you might not expect could act this well. Dillon, Bullock, and Fraser have made their fortunes in more comedic roles, but Oscar has eluded them. If any of them acted like this in their own individual well-written dramas, they would possibly be seeing a gold statue on their mantle. The biggest surprise has to come from Bridges. His only other role was in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, and it was a small role at that (he also had a cameo in 2001’s The Wash, but the less you think about that movie the better.) I don’t know why rappers seem to make the best actors, but it is coming true more often. After the double Oscar nominations of rappers Will Smith and Queen Latifah in 2001, a new generation of rappers are getting honors. Mos Def was already nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for HBO’s TV movie “Something the Lord Made,” so he and Bridges might be seeing Oscar soon as well.
Despite the few problems I had with the movie, Crash will make you think about your own preconceptions about race. I know so many people of other races that I don’t even really think about it much, but for some people, it is a big deal. Check it out and discuss it with your friends. Maybe you will learn a thing or two by it. I’m just glad that my problems with the story didn’t make the movie crash and burn.
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