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This ensemble drama focuses on the combustible mix of guns, racial contempt, and law enforcement in an LA in which the melting pot has reached a tumultuous boil.   It begins in the aftermath of a car accident involving a police detective played by Don Cheadle, which happens to have occurred near a roadside crime scene where the body of a young black man has been found.   The film then steps back to the day before to trace the events that led to this point.  

Multiple storylines revolve around confrontations in which race-based animus plays the key role in their escalation to the edge of tragedy and sometimes beyond.   In one story, a white woman’s (Sandra Bullock) fear of two young black males turns out to be justified.   However, this story develops into an illustration of the tragedy of stereotypes, the way that they poison us as well as dehumanize “the other”.   The same holds true for the other storylines, which include: a conflict between a young Hispanic locksmith and a storeowner who is perceived as Arabic; a successful black television director and his wife who have a humiliating, traumatic encounter with a racist cop; and Detective Waters’ investigation of the killing of a black cop by a white cop.   In the latter tale, the ironies multiply as the detective, a black man, realizes that there’s much more to a story that the whites in the DA’s office hope to spin as a simple tale of a racist cop gone amok.  

Each tale is a case in point of the ways that such shorthand does violence to the subtleties and nuances of reality.   As if to counter, the film takes us into the lives of people whom we would ordinarily think of in just these reductive terms, such as a racist cop (Matt Dillon) and a pair of black street criminals (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Larenz Tate).   It does this not to justify, but to illustrate how everyone’s life experiences have brought them to the point at which we encounter them.  

Ultimately, though, this film is about redemption, about souls saved as well as lost, but you’ll be surprised on which side of that divide the various characters land.   Redemption arises here from forgiveness, from reaching out, from acts of bravery and mercy, and in one case, from tragedy averted in a way that seems to the people involved to be nothing less than a miracle.   The film suggests that our fates are interlinked, as unfashionable as that sentiment may be at this time.   Perhaps ironically, my main criticism of the film is of the very structure that illustrates this laudatory sentiment: there’s something rather too pat about the way the narrative strands are woven together.   Still, this is strong, strong stuff.   Recommended.  

“Crash” is the directorial debut of Paul Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for “Million Dollar Baby”.

- Jul 10, 2005  

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