Paul Haggis 2005
a quick take by Tony McRae
Recently I rescreened Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” perhaps the best ensemble movie ever made. There is no central character, though the closest is Octave (played by Renoir), who has his feet in two social camps so to speak: he is a friend and confidant of the upper class, and he flirts with the lady’s maid. In some ways he’s the voice of reason, the conscience of the story—or stories, since there are several love triangles in Renoir’s mix.
I mention this because “Crash,” the new film by Paul Haggis, is also an ensemble piece with a character, an
cop played by Don Cheadle, who comes close to being the film’s central conscience, a voice of reason in a maelstrom of frayed nerves and racial hatred. And like Octave, he is a good but flawed man who in a moment of misplaced kindness makes a wrong decision which results in the death of a loved one. L.A.
“Crash” is about the coming together (or crashing into one another) of the myriad races that make up contemporary
America. Out of the fifteen or so major characters in this movie, four are white, the L.A. district attorney and his wife, and two cops; the others players are Asians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, Blacks, teenagers, the old and the middle-aged, the rich (one white couple and one black couple), middle class, working class, and poor—though none are destitute. Haggis and co-screenwriter Robert Moresco have structured their story in what seems at first random vignettes, all having to do with misunderstanding and just plain orneriness, all dealing with conflict between the races.
But soon we get a sense that this is a finely meshed grid involving the same mix of people who keep running into one another, sometimes improbably. We know that in real life these coincidences just don’t happen like this—and for a while it is somewhat distracting. (For example, I knew that Matt Dillon’s redneck cop would meet up again with a black woman he had groped on the pretext of looking for drugs.) But once I accepted this plot conceit, I forgot about it and let the hard-edged dialogue and tension of each encounter wash over me. Each story rings true, and though few of the characters are likeable, we begin to care for them. Some do have a cathartic experience, some do not. We wish them all well.
For me the central question "Crash" raises is "Who is a racist?" Or more tellingly, "Who is not a racist?" This movie is a forward step in helping us answer those questions.
Rated R for some violence, language and sexual situations.