English 101, Now in Color

As the world gets smaller, the more likely we’ll bump into each other. The more likely we’d be exposed to people different from us. The more we’ll be dealing with the volatile subject of race. Could this be a good thing? If you see me walking down the street, what would you think of me based on my appearance? If you crashed into my car, what awful things might I say to your face? Are you racist? Am I racist? Who among us is not? The reality is… everyone is a little bit racist. Unless you’re blind, I dare you to step up and say you’re not.

“Crash” interweaves stories of varying ethnic characters in Los Angeles. All of them affected by racism, whether they like it or not. Sandra Bullock is a Brentwood housewife, who is married to the District Attorney (Brendan Fraser). She’s the type of woman who tightens her clutch on her husband’s arm the moment she sees two young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) walking towards them. When she sees a Mexican-American man (Michael Pena) is fixing her locks, she believes the man to be gangster. Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito play police detectives who are also lovers. She gets pissed when he incorrectly identifies her Latin origins. A gun store owner insultingly calls an Iranian man (Shaun Toub) “Osama” because he thinks the client might use the purchased gun for terrorism. A black TV director (Terrence Howard) is pulled over by a white cop (Matt Dillon) and his rookie partner (Ryan Philippe). The cop oversteps his bounds when he frisks the director’s light-skinned wife (Thandie Newton) in a sexual manner.

In one way or another, these characters will show up in another character’s story. Writer and director Paul Haggis gives them raw dialogue that doesn’t shy away with political correctness. For some reason, I cringed when I heard these racial comments on the big screen. It didn’t feel right, even though I hear and say stuff like that often. But it’s not the brash conversations that the movie excels at. It’s just plain good storytelling. “Crash” arrives at familiar moments but refuses to follow movie stereotypes. It has tons of unpredictable moments and it dares you to judge if a character is a good guy or a bad guy.

The colorful ensemble is awfully strong. Matt Dillon and Ryan Philippe probably pull off their best performances here. The most memorable scenes for me involve their police characters approaching dangerous situations. Also take notice of relatively unknowns Michael Pena and Terrence Howard. They’re absolutely engrossing in their own intensely written stories. Veteran Sandra Bullock is surprisingly effective in a dramatic and challenging role. But the biggest surprise is rapper Ludacris, who displays convincing wit and emotion to his character.

Despite many characters populating the film in short span of 100 minutes, the film feels complete. As far as I’m concerned, none of the stories failed. You’ll be pretty banged up when one story after another hits you on the gut, on the mind, and on the heart. It might take awhile to recover from this beautiful disaster.