Saturday, May 07, 2005


Crash (Director: Paul Haggis)

CRASH won 3 Oscars:

Best Picture
Original Screenplay: Haggis, Robert Moresco
Best Editing: Hughes Winborne

Haggis had a long TV writing/directing career with notables "thirtysomething" and "L.A. Law." He also did work on "The Love Boat" and "Diff'rent Strokes," among others. Haggis made a major impact, however, in writing the Oscar-nominated Million Dollar Baby. This isn't his directing debut, exactly, but it's his first major film. Haggis wrote the screenplay with Bobby Moresco, and this is not to be confused with the David Cronenberg sex-and-car-crashes film from 1996.

You've got to admire the balls of Lions Gate for releasing an intelligent, Oscar-worthy picture at the kickoff of the summer movie season, competing against the likes of more visible fare like Kingdom of Heaven and House of Wax. You typically see a film like this in December, and for Nashvillians, January or February. Here is the first great film of 2005, topping all of the barely-good, so-so fare that has passed for the best of the year so far.

This is a film with race at heart, but all of the characters struggle with it in their own way. All of these characters have a surface where we as an audience believe we have them pegged early on, only to have our opinions change. What's wonderful about the movie is that even as our opinions change, we still can't peg these characters. We still can't pigeon-hole them at movie's end. These people, omigosh, are complex. When's the last time you heard that and "summer release" put together?

Much like Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson's fine ensemble piece with loosely connected stories, Crash emulates it, only with a more plot-driven structure. A small decision made could mean life or death, and Haggis shows us the joy and the travesty of those decisions--he does not flinch from either. From the beginning, Haggis places characters in situations filled with irony, and each "episode" is a real study into true character. Some people might watch this and say, "Bullshit...there's no way all of these characters keep tangling with each isn't like that." What P.T. Anderson and now Haggis say, and I agree whole-heartedly, is that life is this way. As I've already discussed with a couple of people that movies, books, any kind of entertainment medium, covers stories that are worth telling and are interesting. True contrivance is when a writer serves their cornered plots a miracle way out of that corner--A man walks into a darkened dead-end alley being chased by madmen and the dead-end turns out to be a secret door or a helicopter flies by and throws down a ladder--that type of thing. The interaction of characters, in their normal environs, can be ironic or incredible, maybe even unbelievable--but these things do happen, these things happen all the time (to quote Ricky Jay from Magnolia).

The interweaving characters are Graham (Don Cheadle) and Ria (the scorching Jennifer Esposito) who are investigators/lovers, Jean (Sandra Bullock, in her best acting job ever) and husband/district attorney Rick (Brendan Fraser), two thoughtful, confused souls in Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Larenz Tate), two cops in "racist dick" Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) and "moral conscience" Officer Hanson (Ryan Phillippe), locksmith Daniel (Michael Pena) and his family, store owners Farhad (Shaun Toub) and daughter Dorri (Bahar Soomekh), and film director Cameron (Terrence Howard, who we will be hearing a lot about this year) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton). Other key characters are played by Loretta Devine in yet another no-sass role but serves the movie and her better, William Fichtner, and Keith David, among others.

I can't express how good everyone here is--they knew the material and brought their A game. Could I pick a "best actor" here? Cheadle is always outstanding, and Matt Dillon brings it when he needs to, I also really enjoyed Michael Pena--but perhaps the award goes to Terrence Howard, a man who has played a lot of characters and has blended into vehicles made for other stars. His performance in Hustle & Flow, which played at the Nashville Film Festival and is slated for a July 13 release, has gotten some serious buzz and here is a tremendous warm-up. You can't say that any one character or performance stands out because they are pretty much equal, but in one major scene his intensity is consuming, a whole lot is said about his character here and it could have easily been another Denzel Washington "King Kong ain't got shit on me!" over-the-top, scene grazer (not to put down that scene or anything, but in a movie like this, over-the-top would have been a violation).

Ultimately, you might see some complaints here and there about what the message of this movie is. When you see characters who seem to be propped up as moralistic and yet they end up doing the disappointing or stereotypical thing, it may seem like the movie has no sense of hope. But the movie does have a real sense of hope, that even these characters who seem to falter can step back and see their mistakes, and not in some deus-ex-machina kind of way. It seems as if the movie is saying that situations and feelings at the moment may be different at certain times for certain people--we are always learning and evolving.

As you can tell, this movie got me thinking in a big way. You must absolutely watch this film.


At 5/08/2005 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

There's no problem calling the Denzel Washington "King Kong" scene bad, because in an otherwise good movie (Training Day) it was a pretty lousy moment. I cannot wait to see "Crash."

At 5/09/2005 09:29:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

So freaking glad to hear you raving about this film.

My girlfriend and I went out Friday night to see a movie, and were planning on seeing Kingdom of Heaven. Once we got to the theater, though, it seemed obvious that Kingdom would be packed and Crash made us curious. So we saw Crash.

Cannot rave enough. Really Chris said, first great film of the year. I was really impressed, both with the performances and with the story and direction. There are really nice layers and twists to everyone's "story" that really enriches the viewing experience. Motivations are revealed. Some find redemption. Some who'd found redemption throw it away.

Ultimately it's a sad movie, though Ludacris and Larenz Tate had me rolling WAY more than I expected them too.

I love me some Magnolia, but much more for the performances than for any other reason. The movie has long felt overly long to me, and too vague in its messages and themes. (Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk are both great too...really not trying to slight Magnolia or P.T. Anderson here).

Crash, while similar in style, pays off much better for me. The ways in which the characters' stories tie together works better for me. Sometimes when I watch Magnolia...the only thing the characters in the different stories seem to have in common is that they all see a bunch of falling frogs at one point. In Crash, there are real and actual interactions between characters. It makes the themes stand out more.

This movie will make you think. And that's even after the first thirty minutes, where you seem to be watching a series of unrelated racists spewing hate. But once you get a peek into those people's lives...find out what makes them tick, and how they got their opinions on race...the movie starts raising questions and issues you can relate to.

It's funnier than a movie about racism should be. It's sadder than an ensemble think piece should be. This movie just stayed with me, and I found myself thinking about it hours after it was over. It takes an overdone subject like racism, that seems to be fairly simple (black and white, if you will) and by the movie's end there seem to be hundreds of angles from which to view the subject.

I pride myself on "calling" things in being able to see the plot twists coming before they hit. And I realized after this movie that not only was every prediction I made along the way completely wrong...but I even stopped making them toward the end...and just enjoyed the ride.
Chris is right, the Howard guy is amazing. Dillon surprised me with how good he was. Cheadle, as always, was excellent. There's really no one who's bad. Just great. Go see it.

Man, it feels so good to find out you loved it too, Chris. Confirms what I've been thinking all weekend.

Let's hope more of the promised "hits" of this coming summer deliver like this little film.


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