|Written by Mel Odom|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
“Crash” is a compelling, energetic effort that proves as mesmerizing as waiting for a snake to strike or the inevitable pile-up of cars on a freeway. Not a story, in a sense (although it won an Academy Award for Best Picture), “Crash” is a string of vignettes that are so tightly woven together that you can’t extricate them from each other without losing structural integrity. They play off each other again and again, sharpening the final acts of each piece throughout 36 hours of nearly non-stop pressure.
Not only is the film daring from the storytelling aspect, but it meets the race issues of Los Angeles head-on, earning its name. It even starts out with a crash that promotes the racial tension, then segues right into a murder scene that happens to be at the side of the road.
Also, each of the characters really gets revealed onscreen. No one is simply the character we first meet. Most movies give you the luxury of getting to know the characters at first glance and not really doing anything else with them. “Crash” gives you every opportunity to hate, dislike, or distrust the characters you’re introduced to, then takes quick, deep moments to show you why those people aren’t so different from you and I, and why it’s okay to forgive them some of their trespasses. Everyone is wrong in the movie, but everyone has a point.
The storytelling is brave as well as revealing, and the linear progression of the film—and it is linear despite the quick cuts and changes—challenges the watcher to keep up. This isn’t one of those movies where you can run to the refrigerator for a moment or two, then plop back down and never miss a thing.
Video Presentation: The video portion of the Blu-ray is excellent. The movie should probably be watched at night if at all possible, in a darkened room to get the real effect of the night when all the action kicks off. The lights at the beginning are a blast, producing a hypnotic effect. The widescreen is utilized throughout the film, showing the landscapes of all the scenes and making the city around the characters really come to life.
Audio Presentation: Although not Lossless quality, the sound throughout the movie is dynamic. Collisions, horns, gunshots and other sharp noises punctuate the surround sound system and hammer the subwoofer. The music rolls through beautifully, showing off the sound separation done throughout the film.
The film starts off with subdued action, the aftermath of a car wreck involving Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito). They’ve been rear-ended by an Asian lady who immediately brings up race to Ria, who uses the same technique in response. Waters walks over to the side of the road to talk with detectives investigating a shooting that happened there. Waters seems worn and world-weary, and the movie is just getting started.
The movie cuts to Peter (Larenz Tate) and Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), two young black guys out for a night on the town. However, they’re in one of the white districts of L. A. Anthony is griping about the service they got, blaming it on the fact that they’re black and everyone just assumes they’re gangbangers. This bit becomes a stock piece whenever they’re onscreen. But in the next minute, they pull guns and hijack a car.
The car they hijack turns out to belong to the District Attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) who is out with his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock). We don’t know that Cabot is the D. A. at first, and we think he’s just an unlucky guy whose wife freaks out on him later. Sandra Bullock really changes gears for this role, and I think this was the first time ever that I really couldn’t stand her character. However, Fraser’s character isn’t much better. Rick Cabot is focused on how his image is going to suffer when he looks like he was a victim, or that he might be losing the black vote as the police try to go after whoever carjacked his vehicle.
Matt Dillon stars as Officer John Ryan. When we’re first introduced to Ryan, he’s on a phone talking to his dad’s HMO, trying to get some kind of medical relief for his father who’s having chronic pains. Then his nature turns ugly as he realizes he’s talking to a black woman, and he begins using insulting racial terms. Later, while responding to the hijacking report of the D. A.’s car, he pulls over a vehicle and rousts the black couple driving it.
Terrence Howard plays Cameron Thayer, a black television director who really wants to just get out of the encounter with Ryan alive. His wife, Christine (Thandie Newton), has had a couple of drinks and gets mad at Ryan as well as her husband for not standing up for himself and, eventually, her. Christine’s actions bring an even greater amount of shame and degradation down onto her and her husband, and this is one of the scenes that’s really hard to sit through, especially when you realize this kind of thing has happened and sometimes continues to happen out there.
But the plots keep on spinning, growing tighter and tighter as the stories get closer and closer together. The plot line involving the Persian family that becomes the victim of a hate crime balloons out and leaves far-reaching repercussions when the father strikes back in anger.
One of the best scenes in the movie is played by Michael Pena as he portrays Daniel, the Hispanic locksmith that Jean Cabot vents about when he’s changing the locks in their home. After going through that haranguing, Daniel goes home and finds out his five-year-old daughter isn’t sleeping in her bed and is instead sleeping under it. In their last home she was nearly hit by a bullet from a drive-by and they never found it. Daniel crawls under the bed with her and tells her a story about a fairy that gave him an “impenetrable” cloak that protects him from everything. He makes a show of giving it to his daughter, relaxing her enough that he can go out on another call.
Overall, the movie is filmed and scored well. One of the most traumatic scenes is when Ryan has to rescue Christine Thayer from her burning automobile. Movies would often begin with that dramatic rescue and never really touch on the emotional complexity of the characters. But having put the earlier scene behind them, the fire that washes over the stricken vehicle is even more threatening because they aren’t working together—for good reason.
For an Academy Award-winning picture, it’s a shame that there are no special features on the disc. There were plenty of people to talk to, and plenty of issues that were covered in the film as to why certain choices were made.
“Crash” is a hard movie to watch. There’s a lot of ugliness out in the world, and during the movie it’s held right under your nose for you to get a close-up look at. However, the actors never flinch from delivering the goods on the scenes. They play them straight and true.
Honestly, I wouldn’t want a steady diet of movies like this. I want my world Hollywoodized. I want heroes I can root for and villains that I can understand without developing any sympathy for. Yep, for the most part I want it simple. But every now and again, something like “Crash” is a good change-up to sit down and think about.