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Laramie Movie Scope: Crash

A brilliant study in racial politics

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 7, 2005 -- “Crash” is a brilliantly executed series of interlocking stories about race and prejudice which take place in a short period of time in Los Angeles. At almost every turn, the story defies expectations and shatters clichés as it depicts a wide variety of flawed, multifaceted characters in a deliciously complex moral quagmire.

Characters include a racist policeman, Ryan (Matt Dillon), another cop, Hanson (Ryan Phillippe of “Gosford Park”), a detective, Graham (Don Cheadle of “Hotel Rwanda”) and his partner, Ria (Jennifer Esposito), a television director, Cameron (Terrence Dashon Howard of “Ray”) and his wife, Christine (Thandie Newton of “Mission Impossible 2”), a police commissioner, Rick (Brendan Fraser of “The Quiet American”) and his wife, Jean (Sandra Bullock of “Miss Congeniality”), a couple of carjackers, Peter (Larenz Tate of “Biker Boyz”) and Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges of “2 Fast 2 Furious”). In addition, there is a Persian shop keeper, his family, a Hispanic locksmith, his daughter, some sleazy politicians, a gun shop owner, a health care supervisor, a maid and many others.

Director-writer Paul Haggis (he wrote and produced “Million Dollar Baby”) does a fantastic job of keeping all these diverse story lines and characters organized so well that you never lose track of anything or anybody. The characters are also complex. In one scene, a cop behaves in a disgusting, racist manner toward a black woman, humiliating her. Later in the film, he heroically risks his life to save the life of a black woman. Another white cop risks his life to save a black man who is having a really bad day. Later, he shoots a black man because he felt threatened, without justification.

Another scene has a white cop complaining about his racist partner to his black superior, who explains the political realities of working in a racist police department to the young cop. Another scene has the racist cop explaining to the younger cop that he hasn't been in enough racially-charged situations yet to really know himself, and he's right about that. Another, similar scene revolves around politics when a black detective investigates the shooting of a black cop by a white cop. Authorities are scrambling to try to save face politically and defuse a potentially explosive racial situation. The film explores the ways that people negotiate racial minefields every day, and the suffering that results from these political games. One black man who is skilled at compromise with whites finally explodes in rage when he is pushed too far by cops and carjackers. None of these characters is stereotypical. They are complex. None of them are perfect, either. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. They are full of surprises.

Some scenes are incredibly intense. Some are extremely suspenseful. Some are very moving. Some are funny. Every honest person who sees this movie will see a little of themselves in at least one of these characters. It is a very provacative, intense, moving film. The production values are high and the acting is excellent all around. Even Ryan Phillippe, who is usually bland at best, gives a good performance here. Sandra Bullock, who usually appears in romantic comedies, turns in a great performance as an angry, neurotic woman who has alienated everyone around her. This is best film I have seen so far this year. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)