Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

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Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Jul 10, 2005 4:26 am

Sparks start flying early on in Crash, Paul Haggis' remarkable second feature, as we hear one of its most enigmatic characters muse, "We're always behind this metal and glass," and he continues while staring at the alternating lights at a scene of a crime, "It's the sense of touch... I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something." It may sound ostentatious, but it doesn't take long for one to realize that he ain't kiddin'! Canadian Born Haggis is a veteran of television shows like L.A. Law, EZ Streets , and thirtysomething; programs known for their running commentary on issues such as race relations and social injustice. 2004 was certainly his breakthrough year as he also wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. While race and class structures certainly played in a part in Eastwood's film, here they're heightened to a point of absurdity, yet its astonishing how intelligently the material is handled.

Following the groundwork laid out by films like Short Cuts (1993), Magnolia (1999), and the lesser-known Grand Canyon (1991) (all set in L.A.), Crash follows several different characters as they go about their lives in about a 36-hour period. After detailing the initial crime scene where we met a righteous police detective (Don Cheadle) and his partner/girlfriend (Jennifer Esposito), the film loops back in time to show how it all transpired. The introductory sequences are important for more than one reason. They vividly expose the anger bubbling underneath the surface, which eventually pours over: from an Asian woman berating Esposito's character because her vehicle is in front, and since she's brown-skinned, she must be a Mexican who doesnt know how to drive (a similar comment by Cheadle makes her bark back that her mother is Puerto Rican and her father is El Salvadorian) to a perennially bitchy Brentwood housewife (Sandra Bullock) of a DA (Brendan Fraser) who gets paranoid about anyone who isn't white (including her longtime maid and a Hispanic locksmith simply doing their jobs) after their SUV was stolen at gunpoint by two young black men (Larenz Tate and rap artist Chris "Ludacris" Bridges). Almost everyone is angry and Crash slowly establishes the reasons why.

These tension filled vignettes come fast and fluid and the characters in them are mostly judged by their most obvious feature: the color of their skin. The locksmith (Michael Peña) also gets involved with an Iranian store owner (Shaun Toub) who, by his post-9/11 ideology, thinks that everyone is out to get him (and goes out to shop for bullets with his daughter). And in arguably the most crucial of all, a cop who knows that he's racist (Matt Dillon) stops an SUV (knowing full well that it isn't the stolen one). While his young partner (Ryan Phillippe) looks on in disgust, he humiliates a black television director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) who in return is enraged by the fact that her husband didn't speak out against the cop. (We later see Dillon's character with his father who's in pain due to his mistreated prostate, but the helpless Dillon can't get a straight answer from a black supervisor at their HMO because he insulted her earlier.) Many of the aforementioned situations involve some sort of an automobile, and it seems like Haggis has used them to validate the point made earlier in the film: the isolation and the sense of touch which is missing. Navigating the vast landscape of Los Angeles, these vehicles become the perfect metaphor for people in Crash, usually going about their own ways but occasionally crashing into each other just to see if they can still feel.

The screenplay written by Haggis (along with Bobby Moresco) is at once both humane and tough as steel. Sam Fuller might've spoken about spraying bullets at his audience to have them feel what real war is like, but in Crash, it's the words that do the trick (there were certainly a few "casualties" early on in a screening I attended last week). Crash doesn't try to be provocative just for the sake of it; like the best films of Larry Clark, it's self-consciously intelligent about the way it goes about its business. I don't recall the last time an American film was so brave and blunt with the words spoken by its characters. Most of those hit the intended target. The aim isn't the main issue with the ones who do not, but it's rather the ambiguity of the objective. Amid this warfare, however, Haggis steps aside to observe a tender moment between Peña and his daughter as she talks about the bullet which went through her window in the old neighborhood. Haggis, who earlier established another father and daughter (the Iranians), comes around to have the daughters become the guardian angels for their fathers and that's just one example of complexity of the screenplay.

Crash marches on, building towards a moment of clarity; it comes about halfway through, and Haggis gives it everything he has as if the whole film rested on it. As Mark Isham's evocative score reaches its crescendo, the downtrodden Newton finds herself stuck underneath her car only to be helped by Dillon's character who assaulted her the night before. Newton fights him off while Dillon tries to calm her down, knowing that he needs her as much as she needs him. It's a moment so breathtakingly vibrant and honest that even the best passages of Magnolia seem less in comparison. After that, there's no doubt regarding where the film wants to go and it's a good place to be.

Don Cheadle, who also serves as a producer, recently stated that Paul Haggis was involved in an accident himself in the early-90s, and that incident became the catalyzing factor for the story. As for any film dealing with serious issues, Haggis had trouble coming up with the money. But the budget of roughly $7 million was eventually raised after a few individuals came on board. And what a cast Haggis has assembled for a film, which regardless of its budget, seems epic in every sense. A solid screenplay can make a lot of actors look good, but in a multi-character study like Crash , where the characters being inhabited for short periods of time are complex human beings, the onus falls on the actors. Sandra Bullock, in about half a dozen scenes, surpasses everything shes ever done in her career; Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe have never been better; Thandie Newton, one of my favorite performers, is brilliant once again which begs the question why she isnt employed more often (although one reason is pretty obvious); Cheadle brings a quiet intensity to his performance which is fast becoming his trademark. From Jennifer Esposito to Brendan Fraser, from William Fichtner to "Ludacris", everyone is worthy of praise.

Thematically speaking, Crash may not be covering any new ground, but it comments on an amalgam of issues with force and conviction. It's also a compassionate and deeply-felt meditation on hope and redemption in the face of doubt and despair. Frankly, in societies where there's true dialogue regarding racial politics and all of its manifestations, a film like Crash would be deemed irrelevant, but it shouldn't be a news to anyone that ours isn't one of them. We live in a "melting-pot" where nothing seems to be melting anymore. By trying to be politically correct, we have not only become detached from everything and everyone around us, but most importantly, from ourselves. Crash shows humanity in all of its glory and shame, where one act can break a cycle of anger and hate. In a world where paranoia roams freely, two wrongs certainly don't make a right.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby hengcs » Sun Jul 10, 2005 4:30 am

You won't believe this, but over the last few weeks, I have recommended this movie to many many people ... ha ha ha ... I wonder if the distributor will let me earn some commission *just kidding*

Anyway, I think it is a very good movie!
It has a very well written script.

In essence, it challenges all of us
-- You think you know who you are ... until something happens ... and maybe we are not all that different after all ... (with all pun intended in this very line)

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby wpqx » Sun Jul 10, 2005 4:45 am

I loved this film, and would probably say it's the best film I've seen from this year. Granted we're only in July so it isn't like the great movies are being released, but this one was fantastic, and unforutunately because of it's release date it probably has no Oscar prospects, with the possible exception of a screenplay nod. The film lingers in your mind, and I have a better recollection of scenes and characters from this movie than War of the Worlds, which I only saw a few days ago. In fact the more this film hangs in my memory the better it seems to get. I too have recommended this film to anyone looking to go to a movie, just wish some of them would take my advice.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby A » Wed Jul 20, 2005 8:08 pm

I've seen Crash because of the postive remarks in this thread last week, and I must say I'm not so enthusiastic about it.
For a Hollywood film it is certainly way above average, but for an independent film, definitely below.
What was the worst thing in the film was the terribly pathetic score, which got on my nerves more and more, and which almost succeeded in ruining one of the best scenarios that has come out of the US this year.
This said, the scenario, and especially the dialogues are the films main support (though they too have some flaws), making very good performances by Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle and Sandra Bullock possible. In fact there isn't one mediocre performance in it.
But again one big problem is the flashy pacing and cutting, which are more of a show-off than a thorough reflection. Some moments appear pointless and "overdirected", and there are numerous deja-vus, as one remebers almost the same things made in a better way before (e.g. 21 Grams, Mystic River, Short Cuts, Magnolia, etc.).
The film doesn't offer any new insights, but is (at least from my pov) right in the middle of current invents where we observe that the american "melting-pot" concept doesn't work.
I can't add much to the positive things that have already been mentioned, let me tell you only that the film had one great moment, in fact for me one of the best emotional experiences in film in my whole life. The scene where Matt Dillon rescues Newton from the car-wreck is in avery aspect a phenomenal achievement, one that should be studied in every filmclass. But it only works so good, because of the scenes and the atmosphere we've experienced before. This scene is the films climax, and I'd recommend evrybody to see the film, if only for this.
There is also a great scene at the end, when one of the immigrants is shown standing in a videostore in front of a huge display of goods, but I remember the exact same scene from another film (maybe somebody casn help me here), but nevertheless this one shot conveys maximum complexity in minimum time, and in the end says more about our world's problems than could be expressed in words.
Despite myself praising certain aspects, the film as a whole doesn't say anything profound or new, that hasn't been said in a better way numerous times before. For me a film isn't automatically good, just because it makes one think. I think the pressing actuality of its topic and the need to discuss the things mentioned in the film in our society (which constantly tries to suppress them) makes a lot of people see quality#s in the film it actually hasn't.
Yes, the film is important, because it allows a big audience to discuss things that should have been adressed much earlier, but this doesn't make the film AS FILM much better than the mediocre Fahrenheit 9/11. But at least this film knows abouts its faults and it tries to show people in an honest way.
It's a good film that has raised more pressing questions than any other I have seen this year, covering a wide range of issues in a good way.
My rating **1/2 / ****, and a "go see it" to everyone who wants to understand our western societies (and especially the US's) problems, and have them presented in a compact way.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby kookook » Sat Aug 13, 2005 12:48 pm

I saw it tonight... And all I can say, to give a quick recap without revealing the details, is what a planet we live on, eh?

TRY ME... IF YOU CAN HIT ME...meeehhh

Here's the link :Shoot the sheep

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby trevor826 » Wed Aug 17, 2005 6:26 pm

Finally saw Crash this afternoon, a finely crafted film that shows that issues like race and colour are always bubbling under the surface of any multicultural society and are ready to flare at any given moment.

I thought as I was watching the film, "can things really be this bad?" but then I remembered some of the comments I've heard from parents at the highly multicultural junior school my sons attended especially if there were any problems or kids fighting.

Anyway back to the film, the performances were excellent from all involved, the scene with Thandie Newtons character caught in her upturned car with Matt Dillon's cop being the only person on the scene to save her was played brilliantly.

I did think that putting Ryan Phillippe's cop character in the position of killing Larenz Tate's character was a little too contrived as though there to oppose the previously mentioned rescue and to prove Matt Dillon's cop right, but that was only a little point that at least pushed the plot forward, plus he was only one of several characters who seemingly went against their beliefs either to protect themselves or others.

This is without a doubt one of the best US film I've seen this year and one I will see again and thoroughly recommend.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 1:06 am

Indeed, this is a great film and I'm glad that you liked it. It did very well in the U.S. (surprisingly) and I guess it's expanding right now in other countries.

I think the vastness of Los Angeles certainly provides the sort of environment where problems like these fester. Not that things are much better elsewhere but other places aren't as uncommunicative as L.A.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby A » Sun Aug 21, 2005 2:24 pm

I live in Berlin, asnd as it certainly cant compare to L.A., I felt a touch of familiarity (in the negative way). Big Citys seem to be a boiling point, everything always on the verge of tipping over, and help and trust are hard to get. It seems to be getting worse though, in the western world.
I f we compare the film to some third world metropoles, the people in .A. live in a peaceful paradise.
Ill probably be in Belgrad (Capital of Serbia, ca. 4 million inhabitants) next month, and Im very curious regarding its situation.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby wpqx » Tue Jan 29, 2008 5:01 am

I had to watch the film again for an acting class and will be analyzing the structure, acting, directing in detail later but I'd like to jot down some thoughts while its fresh in my head.

This film is a wonderful exercise in rationalized racism. Pretty much everyone is racist to some degree yet everyone finds a way to somehow be right about it. So is that saying racism is ok, or that it's just a human trait? I'm sure Haggis intention was the latter, but you sometimes wonder if EVERYONE really is that way. He went to a great length to create believable and multi-dimensional characters. Unfortunately not everyone is as interesting as the next. I'm not sure if the original script was much longer but it feels like we're almost glancing at certain characters and not spending enough time with them. My proposed solution would be to get rid of Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock's characters and just allot all of their screen time to the other more interesting characters. Bullock never really did anything that would constitute as good acting in her career and you my think that's because she wasn't given any good roles, but even here in a well written part she's lousy.

I also noticed that the time of day seemed to fluctuate greatly. Now it doesn't seem to bounce back and forth in a way that we could be accustomed to. It just seems as though certain scenes begin at night and then wind up going on in broad daylight. Perhaps I'm looking at things in the wrong way, and maybe Haggis does jumble his time frame around a lot more than I initially noticed. There is a sense however of misguided redemption. A few characters are allowed to make things right and apologize for their behavior, yet clearly in the case of Phillipe's character he is left a villain. It is interesting that the second time around Michael Pena seems to be the only one in the film who isn't racist towards anyone. Even when arguing with the Persian store owner he never resorts to racial name calling and although discriminated against never seems to lash out against it.

I thought when I first saw the film that Matt Dillon gave the best performance and I still think he does. He is given a tough role to fill. He is supposed to represent the average white man, and therefore the average white American. Most of the people in this film are archetypes many of which are above stereotypes but all types in their own right. No one is really guilty or innocent and Dillon's character has a tough arc to follow. It makes sense that we first see him calling about his father before we see his molestation of Newton. It allows us to see a better side of him before he's a villain. The next day she winds up apologizing to her husband in a way that says it was her fault, and watching the incident again, it pretty much was. However no one is really guilty or innocent which is the main point of the film. Did she egg him on? Certainly, but did he go over the line? He certainly did and his message which turns tragically prophetic for his young partner is that racism is pretty much an inevitability. LA is perhaps the microcosm of the world, or perhaps it is the tensions in that noticeably racially charged city where movies and street gangs originate.

In some ways setting the film on a rare snowy night in LA makes the film out to be like a retread of classic disaster movies. It follows a similar archetype, letting us now what natural disaster will occur, and basing the film around an ensemble of characters and how they all interact leading to that moment where mother nature steps in. Anderson did this in Magnolia, and Estevez in Bobby, but it is the same policy of The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. In fact most ensemble films revolve around a central defining incident. Altman's Nashville had the assassination, Short Cuts had an earthquake, and this film seems tied to that legacy. Towards the end Haggis uses a piece of music while he slowly pans around each of his main characters in a move that seems shamelessly lifted from Magnolia. Most of the dialogue however is great and it remains a well written film. So Haggis is prone to some heavy handedness but he has created a rich and multi-textured film. The analysis of the film itself defies easy categorization. Saying this film is about racism is severely missing the point, saying the film is racist is even further misguided. There is a desire to paint well rounded characters and this film does that excellently. I certainly have no objection to the Oscar it won, and it seems odd how my prophecy of the film not getting nominated was so wrong.

Re: Paul Haggis' Crash (U.S.-Ger / 2004)

Postby hengcs » Tue Jan 29, 2008 5:23 am

wpqx wrote: So is that saying racism is ok, or that it's just a human trait? I'm sure Haggis intention was the latter, but you sometimes wonder if EVERYONE really is that way. How about ...
people (i.e., individuals) are seemingly so different (both externally and internally speaking) and yet so similar. There are things that seemingly separate and tease us apart, but the very same things are what may bind us together ...

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