WHEN COLORS CRASH
Paul Haggis' "Crash" is a powerful film that intertwines several stories about people of different races and nationalities, all encompassing a common theme of racism. In a sometimes obvious though often subtle way, each of the many characters displays some form of discrimination against a fellow human, and on the other side of the coin each is a target of it. Sometimes in both cases the stereotyping is justified.
Although "Crash" never brings up or hints to the infamous L.A. riots that the defined the early 90s, the pain and anguish that caused a citywide meltdown still lingers, even in a time when the portrait of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hangs in every government office. Even when Rodney King and O.J. Simpson are far behind us. Deep felt emotions don't just melt away with the passing of time.
In the opening shots of the film a shaky confrontation occurs between the city's district attorney (Brendan Fraser), his wife (Sandra Bullock) and two black streetwalkers (Larenz Tate and Ludacris) that gets the ball rolling down an ugly and bumpy path, picking up speed and never slowing down.
If there was a ever a case to be made that prejudice is blinding, this film exemplifies it. Too often the characters don't purposely try to be the way they are but are simply ignorant to the facts. An Iranian (Shaun Toub) man who runs a convenient store is thought to be an Arab, and his wife in headdress can't believe someone would confuse them for anything but what they are, Persian. A Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena) is viewed as a "banger" for his shaved head and modest tattoos, but is just trying to build a bright future for his daughter. Their story especially touching.
A rising detective (Don Cheadle) who happens to be black is sleeping with his South American partner (Jennifer Esposito), whose family dates back to two different countries but not Mexico, the one he assumes. Another cop, Ryan (Matt Dillon), is clearly racist but maybe has good reasons for being so. Maybe not. His young partner (Ryan Phillippe) is appalled by Ryan's treatment of an unassuming couple comprised of a light-skinned black woman (Thandie Newton) and her darker husband (Terrence Dashon Howard), a television director who rewrites the lines for his black actors so they don't sound stereotypically black.
It sounds like I have said a lot but in truth I haven't said anything at all. There's too much going on in this movie to give a proper explanation in a 700-word movie review. Each story contributes to the overall plot, and like Robert Altman's amazing film "Short Cuts" which was also based in L.A., every action has an explosive consequence and keeps us in a tight grip until the entire story unfolds.
"Crash," while at times unexpectedly humorous, is for the most part dark and edgy. Impending tragedy awaits in the next scene and we fear for the characters who might not make it out. But there's hope in this movie. These people learn from each other and we can only hope that they break free from the destructive forces of hatred and bigotry. The film moved me. I saw redemption when originally I felt no optimism. Better days are ahead for our subjects but this world we live in is not perfect, and this movie is no fairy tale - despite its uncanny ability to motivate and touch the emotions of moviegoers in way so few films are able to do.
Four people are credited with scoring the film: Mark Isham, Oliver Nathan, Shani Rigsbee and Kathleen York; providing a sense of urgency with long looming chords, electronic pulses by Isham, and the shrills of a female voice in the distance. James Muro's camera operates with a gritty overcast to the likes of "Narc" and perfectly sets the mood.
In a city as big as Los Angeles, it's amazing how claustrophobic and small it feels when there's so many different people of different backgrounds consuming it. Maybe as a result we will have to learn how to get along some day, as it appears that simply coexisting isn't good enough.