May 30, 2005

MOVIES: Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005)

In the style of Magnolia or Short Cuts, we follow a dozen or so Los Angelenos through a day as their paths keep crossing in unexpected ways. The backdrop to all of their interactions is race, as the stereotypes and prejudices they hold shape their reactions to one another. An Iranian shopkeeper thinks a Hispanic locksmith is trying to cheat him; a white cop explodes at the African-American HMO clerk who won't help him get treatment for his ill father; an Italian producer suggests to an African-American director that one of his actors needs to sound "more black."

It's a large ensemble cast, and the performances are all terrific, with especially good work from Sandra Bullock, Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon, and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Keith David has a single memorable scene, and Ryan Phillippe, I think, is going to be a very good actor in five or ten years, when his prettiness has worn off enough that we allow him to be one. Also on hand: Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Larenz Tate, Tony Danza, Marina Sirtis, and Loretta Devine.

There are two moments in the movie that annoyed me. The characters played by Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton cross paths twice; the second encounter is too big a coincidence for me to swallow, even in a movie built around the coincidental crossing of paths. And there's a scene late in the movie that uses a child for a particularly cheap bit of emotional manipulation.

But those moments aside, Crash is a fine movie. Paul Haggis has a good ear for natural-sounding dialogue; James Muro's cinematography is lovely, particularly in the movie's final moments, which echo Magnolia's storm of frogs in an odd way; and Mark Isham's score underlines the emotional tensions of the movie without being too obvious about it. Don't miss this one.

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