a critiQal film review Crash (2004)

Plot: In the next 36 hours, a multi-ethnic collection of L.A.'s citizens will intertwine as they struggle with prejudices and fears. But what will they do when gray reality intercedes, and it isn't as black and white as their prejudices have them believing it is?

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  • ...interesting, well-portrayed characters help to showcase the depth this film has as it tackles tough, real-world problems.

We hadn’t heard much about Crash, a new movie recently released on DVD. In fact, about the only thing we knew about the film was it starred Sandra Bullock.

Since I am still trying to get over Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) and Two If By Sea (which also explains why I haven’t watched Denis Leary’s new hit show “Rescue Me” (TV)), that immediately put Crash close to the bottom of my list of movies to see (with anything starring Sinbad at the absolute bottom – anyone else have to sit through the horrendous Houseguest?).

Despite my misgivings, we ended up renting Crash anyway – simply because Heather wanted to see a Sandra Bullock movie (talk about your opposites attract – at least movie-wise it’s true in our case). So would Crash be able to redeem Sandra Bullock in my eyes, or was Sandra leading us to another car wreck of a film?

Crash is full of stars that haven’t surfaced recently mixed in with stars that aren’t as big as they should be. The past-their-heyday stars include the above-mentioned Sandra Bullock, Ryan Phillippe, Brendan Fraser and Matt Dillon. Joining them are Don Cheadle and Larenz Tate, who are often overlooked acting-wise. Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton and the latest rapper-turned-actor Ludacris help round out this varied cast. Despite the wide variety of the cast, they all turned in very good performances. Don Cheadle is the highlight of the film, turning in another subtly brilliant cop performance.

The past-their-prime stars turn in decent performances, but Don is able to really involve the audience on a deeper level with his character – something the has-beens don’t even try for. Ryan Phillippe is the best of the once-was’ers, reaching for that spark of acting that once made him a star. Thandie Newton, who seems to be popping up in a wide variety of films (from The Truth About Charlie (2002) to The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) to Crash), seems to be comfortable playing almost any character she chooses, and that isn’t any different here. All in all, a great ensemble cast that rises to the challenges of their roles.

The plot of Crash isn’t what you’d expect. The last movie with that name was a twisted film about people who were aroused by car crashes. This film, on the other hand, uses a car crash as a jumping off point for the film, but then heads straight into cultures Crash-ing together in this melting pot we call America.

With this provocative idea, it tells the story of prejudices today, and how many people still hold to them, despite claiming to be equal to all. Whether it’s Sandra Bullock’s rich housewife looking down on everyone who isn’t white, or Matt Dillon’s blatant black hatred as an L.A. Cop, or Ludacris’ car thief complaining about the white man, racism is everywhere in Crash.

This makes things interesting, as the filmmakers, who now have the viewer’s attention, will throw in a few curveballs (i.e. plot twists) that will force many of their characters into situations they never thought they would have to deal with. With some of the twists of Crash, the filmmakers brilliantly lead the viewer down a rather easy-to-see path, but then surprise them with another plot twist that totally catches the viewer off guard. With one twist in plain sight, the viewers don’t even expect the twist that blindsides them. A very well-made film about a difficult subject.

While the film just sort of ends, and leaves a few unanswered questions (as well as a rather morale-oriented wrap-up), it’s intriguing storyline and interesting, well-portrayed characters make it a movie to see. If it causes even one person to rethink their attitudes about peoples of a different ethnicity, color and/or background, Crash is worth the money it cost to make it. It’s a definite must-see.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go in this country until we are all really treated as “equal” – let’s just hope all of these long-standing prejudices are finally put to rest before another generation has to grow up dealing with racial inequality. However, with the long response-time to the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster bringing this to light recently (voiced by rapper Kanye West on one of the benefit specials), success is clearly still a long way off. Hopefully, Crash can help. It’s a powerful film.

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