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Crash - Review

Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in Crash

Review by Jack Foley

FEW films this year will carry the emotional impact of Crash, a provocative and thought-provoking human drama about several Los Angeles residents whose lives collide over the course of a few hours.

Written and directed by the Oscar-nominated Paul Haggis (of Million Dollar Baby screenplay fame), Crash is a mesmerising piece of cinema that will undoubtedly rate among the finest films of the year.

It features a terrific ensemble cast – many playing against type – who succeed in portraying characters that are frequently flawed and dislikable, but who all possess some form of humanity.

In so doing, it also forces viewers to confront their own perceptions, taking in issues of racism, class and, above all else, decency.

Hence, the most bigoted, racist characters display a redemptive side to their nature, while even the most upright and honest are prone to lapses of reason.

As such, nothing and no one can be taken at face value in a film that revels in its ability to pull viewers this way and that without ever succumbing to the need to feel preachy or pretentious.

The characters who inhabit the film are, without exception, richly drawn and thoroughly engrossing, whether it’s Sandra Bullock’s embittered rich socialite who becomes the victim of a car-jacking, or Michael Pena’s family-man locksmith, who continually has to deal with the racist preconceptions of the people who judge him by his tattoos.

All deliver potentially career-best performances, but none more so than Matt Dillon as a racist cop who epitomises the movie’s ability to explore conflicting morality.

When first introduced, Dillon pulls over a middle class black couple (played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton), and proceeds to humiliate them as his rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe) looks on in repulsed disbelief.

He never flinches from his actions, nor plays up the villainy, merely existing for us to judge for ourselves.

Just when audiences think they have the measure of him, however, he does something unexpected, forcing viewers to re-examine what they may have initially been thinking.

Yet Crash continually messes with convention, refusing to resort to easy cliche or allow viewers to rest on their laurels.

Don Cheadle is also excellent as an ambitious cop investigating the potentially racist shooting of a black fellow officer, as is the aforementioned Phillippe, as the supposedly good side of the LAPD.

Seeing how the various story arcs pan out makes for utterly compelling viewing, while daring to pose some tough questions for audiences (such as whether we are all racist in some form and prone to ugly moments of frailty).

As both writer and director, therefore, Haggis deserves the highest praise possible for delivering such an accomplished piece of work, even if some of the film’s style seems borrowed from the likes of Magnolia or Lantana.

Crash is a near-faultless example of the power of cinema to inspire, provoke discussion and remain with you long after the final credits have rolled. For Haggis, it is a masterpiece.