Crash review by Mike Long

When it comes to the Academy Awards, there are three kinds of people. Those who don't care about the Oscars at all and pay no attention to them whatsoever are the lucky ones. The other two categories consist of film fans who really get into the Awards and feel the compulsion to see every nominated film, and those who feel that the Oscars don't necessarily represent the best that the film industry has to offer. I fall squarely into that last category. So, it's with trepidation that I approach any Oscar winning film, fearing that I will loathe it and question the integrity of the Academy. My first encounter of the year comes with Crash.

Crash takes place in Los Angeles, and deals with several individuals, all of whom are seemingly unrelated. Rick (Brendan Fraser) is the District Attorney of Los Angeles, who has a very uptight wife named Jane (Sandra Bullock). Ryan (Matt Dillon) is a racist cop whose behavior shocks his rookie partner, Hanson (Ryan Phillipe). Ryan is under a lot of pressure as he must care for his father, who is ill. Graham (Don Cheadle) is a police detective who is investigating a bizarre murder which could have been race related. He is also dealing with his mother, who is a drug addict. To complicate matter, Graham is involved with another police officer, Ria (Jennifer Esposito). Cameron (Terence Howard) is a television director whose wife, Christine (Thandie Newton), feels that he is spineless. Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Peter (Lorenz Tate) are two young carjackers. Daniel (Michael Pena) is a locksmith, who has a very tight bond with his young daughter, who is scared of gunfire. Farhad (Shaun Toub) is a store owner who feels that he must protect his property.

As the story of Crash progresses, several events begin to take place which bring these characters together, and these events make the characters confront their own views on race. A carjacking makes a White couple fear for their safety. A Black couple encounter the racism present in the police force, and they are forced to look at how they view themselves. An African-American police detective encounters the race games which are played in the department. A Persian man feels that everyone is out to get him. The incidents continue to escalate and each character, either through tragedy or epiphany, understands how race effects their lives.

Let's go ahead and get the big questions out of the way. Is Crash a good movie? Yes. Is it the best movie from 2005? No way. That distinction belongs to Batman Begins. (You can easily see here why I don't agree with the Oscars.) Crash certainly does have its good points. Screenwriters Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco have done a fine job of creating a patchwork quilt of characters who touch each other's lives by the end of the film. The film is reminiscent of Magnolia or Lost in the way the we, the audience, nod our heads in understanding as we see the pieces fall into place. The viewer will wonder how things will come together and Haggis and Moresco neatly lay everything together. Of course, coincidence plays a large role in the story (as it did in Magnolia), but there are certainly times in life when people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie also boldly tackles the issues of racism with no remorse or regrets. The thoughts of the various characters about those who are different from them are laid out for all to see, and it's rare to encounter a piece of entertainment which is as brutally honest as Crash.

Obviously, the film is notable for its stellar cast. But beyond gathering a staggering number of familiar faces, co-writer/director Haggis must be commended for having some of the actors play against type. Bullock is impressive as a harpy. The usually goofy Fraser is a very serious character. Dillon wasn't unjustly nominated for his performance as the racist policeman. Rapper Ludacris is notably good as a hypocritical carjacker who feels that racism is everywhere, yet continues to steal cars from white people. I won't support the conspiracy theories that Crash won Best Picture based solely on the depth and breadth of the cast, but it's unusual to see this many well-known actors together in one film (in which George Clooney isn't involved).

Despite these positive aspects, I do feel that Crash has it's share of problems. The movie is incredibly heavy-handed, almost embarrassingly so -- at times I felt as if I was watching a LifeTime movie. This makes some of the plot points very predictable. The film is nearly humorous and becomes a chore to watch in the middle, as it desperately needs some levity. While the connections between the characters are interesting, they feel very forced at times -- a good example being the medical examiner's identity. There are moments in the film where Haggis and co. seem so compelled to shove the race issue in our faces that they forget about good storytelling.

Crash is certainly a fine piece of filmmaking, but I can't support the notion that it's the best film of the year. The movie tells a good story and has many interesting characters, but other than its bold portrayal of racial issues, it doesn't feel very original.

Crash crashes onto DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and, for the most part, clear. However, there is noticeable grain in some scenes. The image also shows traces of artifacting, most notably those which show a bright, blue sky. Beyond those problems, the picture is well-balanced and the framing appears to be accurate. The DVD contains three primary audio tracks from which to choose, DTS-ES 6.1, Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1. All three sound fine, with the DTS track being the slight winner. The tracks provide clear dialogue and music reproduction. The surround sound effects are abundant and well-done, as noise emanates from the streets and musical cues fill the speakers. The subwoofers come to life at various times with gunfire and explosions.

This newly released Crash DVD is a Director's Cut Edition, which restores about 2 minutes of footage to the film. This 2-disc edition contains many extras. Disc 1 features an Audio Commentary from co-writer/director Paul Haggis, co-writer Bobby Moresco, and actor/producer Don Cheadle. This is an OK commentary, but it's also quite annoying at times. This is yet another track where the participants get caught up in the film and don't talk as much as we would have liked. There are silent periods and times in which they whisper. When they do talk, there is some information given about the formation of the story, the casting, and the making of the film. Haggis does a nice job of pointing out locations and little things, such as the scene where the camera ran out of film. The remainder of the extras can be found on Disc 2. "Behind the Metal & Glass": The Making of Crash" (28 minutes) features comments from much of the cast and crew. This featurette explores the way in which the film came together, the casting process, the characters, and the look of the film. The director discusses the origin of the story in "On Paul Haggis" (5 minutes). "L.A. 'The Other Main Character'" (14 minutes) is a short documentary narrated by Thandie Newton which examines what Los Angeles is really like beyond the facade of Hollywood. "Unspoken" (11 minutes) is a similar mini-doc, again narrated by Newton, which examines how the film explores the issues of race and racism. The DVD contains 8 Deleted Scenes which can be viewed with or without commentary from Haggis. Most of the scenes are quite brief, but there is one interesting cut which shows another character connection which was dropped from the film. "From Script to Screen" and "From Storyboard to Screen" feature side-by-side comparisons for two scenes. There is a Music Video for the song "In the Deep" by Bird York, and two Musical Montages.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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