Previously a regular “television man”, last year Paul Haggis gained acclaim as the writer and producer of Million Dollar Baby. With Crash Haggis steps into the director’s chair as well and proves that his move to the big screen was not a mistake and that we can expect to see him again for this year’s Oscars.
Life is not a simple world of black and white, good and evil. We all grow up wishing it were so, but as we live life we realize it’s not. Bad things can happen to good people, and even the noblest spirit can fail one of life’s many challenges. Still, all too often we allow those shades of “good” and “evil” to cover our eyes. That man is bad because he’s a racist, but who’s to say he doesn’t spend his weekends helping at a homeless shelter. That woman is good because of all the charity she is devoted to, but who’s to say she doesn’t harbor deep resentment towards those she helps. We only find out the truth about people as they react to situations that fit outside their norm. That’s where Crash comes in.
Paul Haggis’s Crash approaches over a dozen main characters in Los Angeles with the concept that people in the city of angels don’t even touch walking down the street and every so often they crash in to each other just to feel something. Those crashes end up revealing the truth about those characters, proving the most despicable character can have a shining moment of good, while the most endearing character can show true weakness. In Haggis’s world, as in the real world, nobody is specifically good or bad. We are all just shades of gray, and Haggis reminds us of that through his movie.
The characters include people from all walks of life, ensuring any audience member will have someone in the film they connect with. There is the rich elite of the city’s district attorney, who is more concerned with how racial confrontations will affect his public standing then anything else, and his wife, who is the true heart of fear and racism in a world that doesn’t tolerate political incorrectness. There are two well spoken black car thieves, who have their own unique perspectives on what is right and wrong in the world. Two different types of police officers are represented: the more experienced, jaded veteran and the naive rookie. Then you have the family of Pakistani shop owners, the picked on kids in the playground if you will, who have had their fill of the anger thrown at them. Add in the dynamics of a black television director, both black and puerto rican police detectives (who also serve as lovers), and a mexican family man and mix well. The result is a virtual powder keg that explodes dramatically before your eyes.
Of course none of these characters would amount to much without talented actors behind the roles. Crash excels in this regard, as even usually mediocre actors bring life to their roles like never before. Don Cheadle brings everything to his part that we as an audience expect from the actor, but newcomer Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and hit-and-miss actors Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton, and Matt Dillon also deliver high quality performances unlike anything they’ve done before. Special note should be given to Terrence Howard who has received huge amounts of attention for his performances in Hustle & Flow and Four Brothers over the summer. Entertainment Weekly even went as far as to give him the summer MVP award, although they forgot to mention his incredibly powerful performance in Crash, which I would wager surpasses either of his summer movies.
The true genius of the movie however, is Haggis’s script, which gives the actors the tools they need for their performances. Haggis breaks away from the politically correct society we live in and allows racial slurs and epithets to be vocalized that most movies would shy away from. The result is dialog that makes the audience uncomfortable, forcing us all to face own perceptions about other races. How many times have we thought or joked with our friends about the same thoughts that make us cringe when stated out loud? This amazingly honest dialog delivered with such true to life performances really leaves the audience thinking when the film ends.
At first the DVD release of Crash looks a little slim on extras. The disc only includes the film with an optional commentary, a short behind the scenes featurette, and a music video. Also advertised is a DVD introduction, although it’s really only a ten second welcome by Paul Haggis, a music video for a song inspired by the movie, and "trailers", which are for other Lion’s Gate productions and don’t include the actual trailer for Crash.
The commentary track by Paul Haggis, actor/producer Don Cheadle, and producer Bobby Moresco is one of those rare instances where the commentary is as compelling as the movie itself. Because of the low budget of the film, there really was no producing the film from a distance. Everyone in the commentary was deeply involved with the film, donating time, money, and even cars and houses to the film’s success. Haggis offers tidbits on where corners were cut to stay in budget, and how many of the movie’s plot devices were based on real life situations. Since the entire idea for the movie came from Haggis being car jacked, more of the movie is factual then you’d originally think, drawn from both Haggis’s experiences and stories shared with the writer/director. Cheadle shows how truly dedicated to the craft of acting he is, as he comments on the powerful performances given by his fellow actors, from the youngest of the cast to his own moments. It’s one of those few times that kept me compelled to listen for the entire movie, which is the highest praise I can give a commentary track.
The behind the scenes featurette carries much of the same weight as the commentary track. Instead of only including producers though, the dedication of the cast is also expressed, like Sandra Bullock who admits she would have played any role just to be included in the movie (and reportedly paid for her own flights to be on location for the film). Since the movie is a heavy drama, there aren’t a lot of scenes to really look at the making of, so this is more a testament to the cast and crew’s commitment to making the film.
There are no deleted scenes or alternate takes to be found, although they really aren’t needed once you realize how perfectly the film is edited together. Anything extraneously included in deleted scenes might detract from the film. After a little thought it occurred to me that a movie like Crash only needs minimal extras to be a success on DVD.
Crash is one of the most powerful movies of 2005. It’s rare for a movie to make it to the top of my list so early in the year and hold its place there for so long, and even more rare for the movie to be something other than a summer blockbuster style film. Crash holds strong as my favorite movie of the year and I only hope it will be remembered in the upcoming awards season, despite its early 2005 release.