It's interesting that a TV writer-director would script his first feature
film as a collection of episodes. Talk about conditioning. But as Paul
Haggis' ("Million Dollar Baby")
sectional stories illustrate in this high paced multi-drama, it comes
together as an explosive dose of drug culture villainy and racial contempt in
Los Angeles. Not that it's a complete picture of either, nor a particularly
L.A. phenomenon. Racial disrespect certainly doesn't stop at the borders.
A feeling of inevitable tragedy and a Graham Greene worldweariness invests
soft spoken LAPD detective Graham (Don Cheadle) as he confronts crashes and
killings and tries to sort things out with the assistance of his latina lover
and patrol car partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito). Between these two, even sex
comes with a racial component, in full conformation with Haggis' thematic
lessons about its pervasiveness.
Very well-off district attorney Rick (Brendan Fraser), walks down a street
with his bitter babe of a wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) after dinner. Suddenly,
she grabs his arm, but the gesture isn't one of affection and it juices up
Anthony's (Ludacris) tirade on racist inequalities to a more radical level.
He's walking down the street from the opposite direction mouthing off about
injustices to his buddy Cameron (Terrence Howard) when he spots Jean's
move. "See!," he says, "the racist white bitch sees a couple of black men
and assumes they're thugs." With that, he proceeds to demonstrate the
accuracy of the assumption by jacking Rick and Jean's Navigator, which
becomes their base of murderous operations.
Even more iritating is the case of Farhad, an obstinate Iranian shopkeeper
with a microscopic point of view. This guy's tunnel vision is worse than
blindness. Purely on the basis of race, he decides that the Mexican
locksmith he hired is ripping him off when he tells him he needs to fix his
back door before the newly installed lock will do any good. Farhad goes
gunning for him with racial fury when a vandal breaks in and destroys his
business a couple days later and he puts two and two together to come out
Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon), partnering with younger officer Hanson, shows how
profiling can escalate into the outrageous abuse of police authority.
After mugging us with racial disintegration, Haggis attempts an infusion of
hope. Wait, he says, all is not completely lost, and this is where
contrivance crashes against realism with a booster shot of coincidence.
Haggis dips his theme into a little honey and turns Matt Dillon's cultivated
evil into selfless hero, giving Thandie Newton's mortified character a
rage-twisting turnaround to deal with.
It is true that each story has, at its dramatic base, something ugly and
confrontational, something exposing the worst of humanity, something
sociopathic. One can say that's what makes for drama, and I couldn't argue.
But as "Crash" tries to string together a portrait of life, it can be
criticized for its persistent imbalance.
Haggis's TV skills may well have conditioned his commercial sense to believe
that intense cruelties are what it takes to draw people away from their
drawing rooms and to do his job as a screenwriter to keep them in their
theatre seats. He may be a little obvious in the way he goes about it, but
he's right: the slant of the vignettes may be entirely unbalanced but the
commercialization factor is true and his approach produces drama. "Crash" is
not a bore, crashing or otherwise.
~~ Jules Brenner