Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton
You might expect a film called Crash and featuring a number of converging storylines to be like one of those 1970s disaster movies – with a freeway pile-up at the end. But it’s not. Sure enough, Crash threads discrete narratives together, played well by an array of actors. Sandra Bullock’s ‘rich bitch’ wife seethes with urban anger; Thandie Newton’s marriage hangs in the balance; a locksmith is targeted by a Persian storeowner who blames him for a break-in; Matt Dillon’s a blue-collar cop who looks after his ailing dad and feels up females in the line of duty. You soon realize that the crash they’re all heading for isn’t automotive. It’s racial.
Paul Haggis, scripter of Oscar-winner Million Dollar Baby is both writer and first-time director of this multi-layered and fragmented movie. Wearing its heart on its sleeve, Crash is upfront about its intentions but wisely doesn’t get preachy. Rather, the personal and institutional racisms of everyday life are played out in the stories themselves and everyone is implicated. Black youths accidentally run over a Chinese man whose wife berates white hospital staff. The Persian storeowner vents hate against the Hispanic locksmith. But, appropriately, the characters aren’t one-dimensional. Matt Dillon’s racist cop visits shame on Thandie Newton one day only to risk his life the next when she crashes her car.
Haggis wants us to look at ourselves and our preconceptions. Unfortunately, though, some will also be looking at their watches. Because while there are sporadic scenes that take flight, Crash meanders too much for its own good. It’s effectively a one-note movie enlivened by a couple of truly nervy moments and some poignant relationships.
It’s thought-provoking but not as gripping or incendiary as the title, and the hype, might have you believe.