The whites hate the blacks. The blacks hate the Hispanics. The Hispanics hate the Asians. And everyone seems to hate the Arabs, who are really Persian. Welcome to LA, or, at least, filmmaker Paul Haggis’ version of the city of Angels, which he portrays as a melting pot of racial hatred and intolerance in Crash, his critically-acclaimed directorial debut.
Crash follows an ensemble cast of troubled characters all deeply scarred by racial hatred. These characters, whose lives intersect in a series of random events, are forced to confront their vile prejudices when tragedy strikes. Critics will have you believe that Crash is one of those “important” films, a movie so vital to the national dialogue that talented actors work for scale just to be part of the project. Unfortunately, like an annoying Evangelical who won’t stop ringing your doorbell, the film proselytizes so loudly the audience, instead of a moving story, gets Rodney King’s trite plea: “Can’t we all just get along?” The answer is a resounding no.
Crash certainly has stars. But not all the stars align. Sandra Bullock, who plays a lonely housewife, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how skilled she is as a comedic actor. Brendan Fraser’s (Bullock’s district attorney husband) stilted performance makes his Encino Man look worthy of a golden statue.
Thankfully, there’s Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle and Larenz Tate. Dillon plays a racist cop with such authenticity that he conjures up images of the corrupt police officer Mark Furhman who gained notoriety during the OJ Simpson trial. The scenes between Cheadle (a police detective), and his heroin-addicted mother (Beverly Todd), give you the sudden itch to call up your own mother and tell her you love her. And the underused Larenz Tate (a friendly carjacker) oozes with so much charisma you’ll leave the theatre and head straight to the video store to rent the overlooked Menace II Society. It’s these weighty performances (Terrence Dashon Howard and the beautiful Thandie Newton are equally impressive) that keep Crash from imploding from the overwritten dialogue and an overly dramatic soundtrack that lets you know exactly when to be sad, outraged, and anxious.
But the reason Crash has become a critic’s darling is because the small film is successful in raising the uncomfortable truth that Haggis, who was the screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, seems to understand all too well: these racist characters who are really honourable people struggling through difficult circumstances remind us of ourselves.