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The Philadelphia Daily News

'Crash' A Collision Of Cultures; Accident Symbolizes Human Interaction


May 6, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Philadelphia Daily News. All rights reserved.

The great American melting pot depicted in "Crash" is having something of a meltdown.

The movie is a crazy quilt of Los Angeleno ethnicity - black, white, Latino, Asian, Iranian, Thai, each fairly pissed off at the other.

"I want you to note, officer, how surprised I am to be involved in a traffic accident with an Asian," cracks a Hispanic woman, who later has to reprimand her African-American boyfriend for calling her Mexican, when in fact her folks are from Puerto Rico and El Salvador, prompting still another callous joke about Latino parking habits.

The traffic accident is the movie's chosen metaphor for human interaction (shades of "Changing Lanes"), so there is trauma and there are victims, and it's not a happy or terribly hopeful movie.

Good deeds rarely go unpunished, bad people are granted a kind of grace, and almost everybody is temperamental, exasperated and on the edge of a violent outburst or breakdown.

Holding them all together is fate, or a screenwriter who seems to have quaffed deeply from a tankard of narrative coincidence.

As "Crash" plays out, though, you see that writer-director Paul Haggis has a larger point in mind - that people feel isolated and enraged when, in fact, they are connected, and the consequences of the smallest actions ripple throughout the entire population of the city.

A district attorney and his wife (Brendan Frazer, Sandra Bullock) get carjacked by two black men (Larenz Tate, Ludacris), leading the D.A. to seek a high-profile white perp to assuage black voters, leading a black investigator (Don Cheadle) to conceal evidence in another crime, part of a deal to spring his brother from jail, and on and on. It's a web of connection that manages to trap every character, often in more than one strand.

The story is obviously implausible, the writing sometimes glib, but just as often it's smart and vivid and has the ring of truth. Haggis spent decades in episodic television ("thirtysomething," "Walker, Texas Ranger") and there is a terrific scene of a black director (Terrence Howard) being asked by a white sitcom star (Tony Danza) why one of the black actors has stepped out of character and started acting less "black."

Howard accedes to the demands of his star, remaining outwardly placid while his interior temperature creeps up to what will be, inevitably, a boiling point. (Howard is great here, as is Cheadle again.)

It's at this boiling point - when each person is at his worst, or best - that lives in "Crash" intersect, and it's why the viewer learns to forgive some characters their egregious behavior. The movie instructs us to avoid doing what we do naturally - to judge quickly, and harshly.

I wish it well. It reminds me of the modest, usually well-made movies that take on the subject of urban paranoia and anger, like "Changing Lanes" and "The Trigger Effect," which arrive to good reviews and leave without an audience.

Produced by Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman, directed by Paul Haggis, written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, music by Mark Isham, distributed by Lions Gate.

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