14 March 2006

Crash — Paul Haggis — film review

Crash - Click for details and orders at Amazon.co.ukHaving missed it when it came out, I saw this film recently on DVD and rated it highly. When it was nominated for an Oscar I had my doubts that it stood much of a chance, in a year dominated by gay cowpokes and authors. But when it won, I felt the award was fully justified. It covers a two day period, unraveling the intertwined back stories of a number of people involved in a Los Angeles traffic accident. These comprise: a black police detective with druggy mother; two black car thieves constantly discussing racism; a District Attorney and his wife; a white cop with a sick father; a successful Hollywood black director and his wife; and a Persian shop-owner desperately concerned with the safety of his business and his family.

The theme is racism - and a bleak vision of the US it provides. In the UK we are well aware of racism but our experience never begins to compare with that of our American cousins. We see in the film how race permeates every aspect of society, contaminating it like a disease, spreading fear and paranoia; framing the lives of the poor and freighting the nightmares of the rich.

The racist white cop, trying to help his father, becomes infuriated by the unresponsive health service bureaucracy, staffed by poor blacks. He takes it out on the director's beautiful wife whom he more or less molests after stopping their car and shamefully intimidating them. But there are no crude stereotypes; later on, at the scene of the accident, the cop acts heroically to save the life of the same woman.

Paranoia is freely on display; one of the car thieves suggests buses have big windows so that the poor blacks who use them can be clearly seen and humiliated. The shop-owner encounters extreme hostility on account of his Middle Eastern provenance; he changes the locks on his shop but does not trust the locksmith who says he needs a new door. Consequently his shop is burgled and trashed with racist comments scrawled on the wall. He takes a gun to seek reparation from the locksmith whom he holds responsible.

Each story is dependent on the others in some complex fashion but the messages are subtle, oblique, not broadcast via the customary Hollywood megaphone. The acting is top notch throughout, but with only a few recognized stars - Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle who also produces the film. It's a bleak but intelligent and riveting vision of how, despite its success at being a multicultural melting pot, racism has entered into the very DNA of the USA and will continue to play havoc for as long as the country exists.

Guest review by Bill Jones who blogs at SKIPPER

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Denis Wong said...

"In the UK we are well aware of racism but our experience never begins to compare with that of our American cousins"

Is this so? The film paints a picture within a US context of violence and personal insecurity. In the UK we may not share that context, but we nevertheless share the racism.

skipper said...

I've never lived in US so this film for me was so clear and honest, it was like an authentic taste of the depth to which racism intrudes into their society.

We do have racism in UK but my judgment is that it's always been to a lesser degree. For example we've never had lynchings or KKK type organisations and not even racist riots as in LA during 60s and over Rodney King.