A review of “Crash” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for language, nudity and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

Paul Haggis and I are developing a beautiful friendship based on his ability to create perpetually eloquent fare like Million Dollar Baby and Crash.

An astounding cast works wonders with Haggis’ poetically brittle words and unkempt racial tension.  Six degrees of separation is all that divides these disenfranchised Los Angelenos into pockets of hatred, greed and frustration as a melting pot of blacks, Middle-easterners, Asians and Caucasians comes to a full boil.

A melancholy detective named Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) hooks up with his white partner (Jennifer Esposito) for business and pleasure, deriving little from either. On the side he copes with an aging mother who is pinning her hopes on Graham’s ne’er-do-well brother Peter (Larenz Tate) who gets his own kicks from petty theft and car-jacking.

Shortly after Peter jacks the tony wheels of Brentwood snob Jean Cameron (Sandra Bullock) and her uptight D.A. hubby Rick (Brendan Fraser), Jean pitches a bitch of a meltdown and hurls angry insults at her Mexican locksmith Daniel (Michael Pena).

Daniel is dealing with his own family demons; the dangers of a bad neighborhood and a sensitive daughter who has witnessed far too much street violence in her tender five years.

Crime isn’t just for the criminals.  LAPD Officer Jack Ryan (Matt Dillon) pulls over a swanky SUV similar to the one that was filched earlier in the day. The plates don’t match but Ryan decides to toy with the black occupants, a calm and collected TV producer Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his fiery wife Christine (Thandie Newton).

 Ryan’s partner Hanson (Ryan Philippe) watches in horror as Ryan physically humiliates Christine and verbally abuses the couple by treading on shaky racial ground and little else.

As the players navigate the dense grey area between black and white, intolerance and understanding, it’s anyone’s guess what tensile reaction is lurking around the next corner.

Discomfiting is the only way to describe this smart, edgy drama rubbed raw by its own narrative anger. What may appear tidy and a touch convenient is merely an insular and intense focus on a particular set of lost souls attempting to bypass harm and foul by searching for salvation in all the wrong places.

Tight scripting and a showy pop score bolster a glossy look and superlative performances. Powerful moments pile up – one so particularly crushing that I can’t shake the hurt. Crash pushes the envelope in the way that only sharp and challenging material can; certain to be on my Best List come year end.