Film — Crash (R)

Crash (R)

by Amy Diaz

Everybody’s a racist in Los Angeles in the sprawling, interwoven Crash, the story of a dozen people and the way they interact over a period of about two days.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles and I suppose that, yes, everybody is some degree of racist, making assumptions about others based solely on their ethnicity or religion (or, for that matter, based on class or social status or make of car). I have two theories on this. The first is that in a big city, you tend to make snap judgments a lot, having nowhere near the time or opportunity to meet and dislike people on an individual level. The second is that this is what happens when you are lucky enough to live in a city with lots of different kinds of people.

Also, I have yet to meet anyone anywhere in the world that isn’t at least a little racist. We all have prejudices ground into us — like gum squished into upholstery — that, regardless of how much education we receive or how good our intentions, never entirely go away.

In Crash, this means that the characters who aren’t blatant racist jerks will, at some point, shock and disappoint themselves with the way in which they react to a situation where their race directly impacts what happens. In the opening scene, two police detectives sit in a car that has been involved in a fender bender. One, Ria (Jennifer Esposito), a Latina forever having to explain that she’s not a Mexican, gets out of the car to talk with the Asian woman in the car who hit her and their argument quickly degenerates into a volley of name-calling. The other, Graham (Don Cheadle), is her partner and her lover. As the movie goes on, we learn that he is fighting two losing battles — one with his drug-addicted mother and the other with the district attorney’s office, which wants to pin the murder of a black cop (maybe dirty, maybe not) on a white cop.

The district attorney (Brendan Fraser) is particularly concerned with race right now because he and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) were recently carjacked by two black men — Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate). Fraser’s character doesn’t want to lose the African American vote. Meanwhile Jean seems to have lost her mind. The carjacking has left her angry and frantic and so scared that when she sees the tattoos on the Mexican-American Daniel (Michael Pena) changing the locks on her house doors she insists her husband have them changed again. He’ll give the keys to his “homies” and they’ll return to the house to rob the family, she says.

Daniel hears this discussion and, while he seems hurt by it, seems to take it in stride. He’s recently moved his wife and five-year-old daughter Lara (Ashlyn Sanchez) to a better neighborhood. Thus the need to answer all-night locksmithing calls such as the hysterical Jean or the suspicious Farhad (Shaun Toub), an Iranian shop-owner who feels that Daniel is trying to cheat him. Farhad is so concerned about security that he goes out to buy a gun and is faced with a redneck gun seller who calls him Osama.

Guns and law play heavily in the world of Crash. In an SUV similar to the one the district attorney loses, a wealthy African American couple, Cameron (Terrance Dashon Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton), drives home from a night out. Christine is making the evening extra special for Cameron in a way that takes them both by surprise when cops Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Hanson (Ryan Phillippe) shine the high beams. Christine, in the extra bright light, maybe looks white to Ryan or maybe he’s just in a vindictive mood from dealing with a black HMO agent. He pulls the couple over and, to the horror of them and the young idealistic Hanson, he proceeds to “search” Christine in a particularly humiliating and invasive way. This leads to a fight between the couple at home and a crisis with each later on.

The stories are intriguing, occasionally surprising in the way they develop and caustically funny. The plots, occasionally outlandish with coincidence, nonetheless tie together nicely.

The actors themselves in this movie do a masterful job of taking what could easily be overwrought moments and making them feel as close to real as the moderately contrived string of meetings will allow.  Particular standouts include Don Cheadle, who needs to get another chance at an Oscar, and Michael Pena, who is the perfect mix of decency and low-level desperation.

What keeps Crash from becoming more than just a series of smart vignettes are the one-trait constraints placed on the characters. Racist cop. Even more racist cop. Butt-covering politician. Butt-covering cop. Desperate angry housewife. Scared dad. Even more scared immigrant. The actors push the limits of the slim characterizations given to them but occasionally the one-dimensional constraints keep them from truly turning these character types into personality-having characters.

- Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH