Remember what I said about a great script shining through despite abysmal direction? Paul Haggis (writer of Million Dollar Baby) does exceptionally well on both accounts in his directorial debut Crash.
The film showcases the lives of an ethnically (and socio-economically) diverse group of Americans living intereconnected lives in modern-day Los Angeles. How these lives, artificially separated by culture and color, inseparably intertwine in the city is a concentrated mirror of multi-ethnic America today. In a sense, post-9/11, Haggis may be hinting to issues brought about by a globalizing multi-ethnic world where differences in appearance and practices are more visible than our common humanity.
The stories are stories of people who happen to be white, black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern and all else in between. While Haggis makes the point that these are stories of people, their color and socio-economic background are at the same time inseparable from who they are. In a supposed "politically correct" portrayal of America today, Haggis demonstrates that these biases nevertheless remain. Racial slurs are abundant in the film, and while we may cringe at hearing the characters say them, we've a sense that real people in real-life America, think and say them nonetheless.
The performances of the stellar cast are impeccable, understated and incredibly effective. Sandra Bullock, usually known for her likeable, girl-next-door comedic performances, is believable as a rich "desperate housewife." Memorable also are the interpretations of Thandie Newton as a middle class black woman and Don Cheadle as a black cop. Look out for rapper Ludacris' portrayal of a thief who philosophizes about the young black man's struggles in white America. While far from knee-slapping funny, his particular vignette provides some easing of the perpetual tension Haggis keeps his audience in. There are a few excruciatingly moving scenes to watch.
Crash is a small movie about big ideas. Like poetry on screen, it is lyrical, short, profound and to the point. It is poignant, quiet and yet powerful. Despite the title, no explosions here.