Many of the greatest movies in existence are also movies that you may not watch as often as you would expect because they are, basically, tough work. I don't think any of my top five movies have central protagonists that survive in them. I guess that is why we describe certain action movies or comedies, or even romances, as easy watching. They may not be quality productions but you don't have to think too much and you know that you will probably come out of the end of the movie the same way you were at the beginning. Other movies potentially change your views forever, or - at the very least - make you think about them for hours, days or weeks. In recent times we have had dramas like 21 Grams and Closer, both of which leave you with quite a lot to think about long after the credits roll - even if they also leave you with a bitter taste. When I heard about Crash, the one thing that I do remember about all of the publicity was that everybody seemed to say that it made you think.
Taking the lives of about a dozen central characters and splicing them together over the best part of two hours, Crash is an intricately knitted drama about relationships, encounters, prejudices and dishing out both love and hate. At the core is Don Cheadle's homicide cop, Detective Graham, who is investigating a potentially politically detrimental incident between two other policemen. Aside from his grim job, he has an ailing mother who is worried about her other, less reliable son and he also has some relationship issues with his sassy girlfriend, Ria, played by Jennifer Esposito. Then there is Matt Dillon's bigoted veteran beat cop, Officer Ryan and his relatively fresh-faced partner, Officer Hanson, played by Ryan Phillippe. After Hanson witnesses some unconscionable behaviour by his partner, he decides that he cannot go on working with the guy. But despite his conviction to try and remain unbiased, is he not prejudiced as well himself - just to a different degree?
Terrence Howard's TV show producer, Cameron, is happily married to Thandie Newton's Christine until one tragic, unforgettable incident occurs that will have repercussions throughout the rest of their lives. Will their marriage ever recover? And will they ever get closure? Then we have Jean, played by Sandra Bullock, who is married to Brendan Fraser's District Attorney, Rick and comfortably sheltered in her life until, again, something happens to them that triggers a change - particularly in Jean's life - unleashing all of the prejudices within them and showing how they deal with the revelation in different ways. There's Lorenz Tate and Chris Bridges, who are both young small-time hoods, spending the majority of their time jacking cars and philosophising about racism, but who are also forced to confront their own demons.
We also have an interesting Persian family, headed up by the father, Shaun Toub, who runs a small store but finds the language barrier, his own inexcusable stubbornness and the resulting prejudices put him on a potentially catastrophic path, the outcome of which I would be surprised if anybody could have predicted. Finally, possibly the most interesting character is that of the locksmith Daniel, played by Michael Pena, who looks like a Latino gang member, when the truth is that he encapsulates the very heart and soul of decency within this drama.
As the movie progresses, we see the characters evolve and their lives cross over in brief or more significant moments, tying up a domino effect of good and bad that plays out to the unexpected ending. You see, aside from the many questions it raises about racism - both big and small - which to be honest do come across as slightly overwhelming at times, there is another, more subtle, underlying theme. This is of the pain you can cause to somebody even by the most insignificant of actions and the resulting damage that they can cause others - driven by the hurt caused to them. We see this theme contrasted with the goodness and decency that people can show, which resonates through into the actions of those that you are kind to.
We get to see what drives these people to do what they do, see the reasons why they are so prejudiced and, in some cases, see them come to realise the destructive effect that their bigotry and bad actions can have. This is where Crash is almost unparalleled as a drama. It introduces you to a character who, right from his first action, you have nothing but hatred for - and then slowly moulds him into a deeper soul, explaining his behaviour whilst never trying to justify it as right. This is just one example of how the narrative tricks you into making your own pre-judgements, having your own 'prejudices' about the characters, then going on to turn them around so that you realise that you were wrong all along.
Every single one of the actors in this movie deserves credit for their portrayal of the characters and it is difficult to filter out any one that stands out above the rest. Don Cheadle is, of course, on top form - but he makes compelling viewing out of anything he has a hand in, from E.R. to Hotel Rwanda. Ryan Phillippe (who you might recognise from the underrated Way of the Gun) is also always watchable, doing a great job with his part here. Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock also both do superb jobs with two of the least likeable characters, but one of the most surprising performances came from Michael Pena as the locksmith with consummate love for his young daughter.
All in all Crash is a superb drama, which will have you hooked into the unravelling lives of the many main characters over its perfectly structured two-hour duration. Shot on a remarkably low budget, it thrives not only on a superb script and clever story, but also on extracting some of the best performances that we have ever seen out of myriad stars. Crash is certainly the kind of movie that gives you a lot to think about long after the credits roll.
Here's a question to ask yourself after the movie (SPOILER alert) - Who would you prefer out patrolling our streets: a racist cop who uses his authority to prey on those he is supposed to protect but is also willing to put his life on the line to save any other human being; or a decent, upstanding cop who will sit back and watch you die because they do not want to endanger their own life?
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