Nominated for six Academy Awards, and winner of Best Picture, Crash is more than deserving of the critical acclaim surrounding its release. Probing the deepest recesses of racism, prejudice, and discrimination in modern day America, the film forces viewers to examine their own tendencies to create and foster stereotypes. More importantly, it does so in a way that doesn’t accuse, blame, or pursue a political agenda. In fact, Crash even touches on the shortcomings of political correctness and how some people have allowed outside perceptions to affect personal judgment, often to their own detriment. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, author of the Million Dollar Baby screenplay, Crash is a thoughtful piece of social commentary wrapped in a storyline ripe with conflict and suspense.
Crash follows numerous characters living in and around Los Angeles as they deal with racial perceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes in their daily lives. Jean Cabot (Sandra Bullock) struggles with her inability to trust her own instincts following a car-jacking which leaves her teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, police officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) harasses African-Americans as a result of the prejudices he developed following his father’s bankruptcy years ago. Lucien (Dato Bakhtadze) and his wife Elizabeth (Karina Arroyave) find their own biases and self-perceptions erupting to the surface of their marriage following a traumatic encounter with Officer Ryan. The consequences of Ryan’s hatred have a rippling effect, a theme which is repeated in countless other social exchanges between store owners, locksmiths, detectives, and hockey enthusiasts. In short, Crash sets out to jar its audience into recognition of the enormous consequences of racial prejudice, no matter how “minor” we may believe those attitudes may be.
The cast of Crash is superb. Don Cheadle completes his graduation from the front desk of The Golden Girls spin-off Golden Palace by turning in a second blockbuster performance within a matter of months (Hotel Rwanda would be the other). Like other characters from the film, Cheadle’s Graham is unable to fully develop due to time constraints, yet he manages to come across as a sympathetic and flawed character. The same can be said of Matt Dillon’s portrayal of Officer John Ryan. He isn’t a mere hatemonger skinhead, but rather a caring individual who developed detrimental prejudice based on past events from his childhood. In the end, like many of the film’s characters, the audience gets a glimpse of his good side.
Overall, Crash is an excellent film that lives up to the notoriety and hype. For the typical viewer, it will evoke myriad emotions – hatred of racism, loathing of man’s inhumanity to man, empathy, self-reflection, and an awareness of how one’s own prejudices may affect others. Paul Haggis brilliantly illustrates the consequences of widespread attitudes harboring racist, prejudicial, discriminatory, and stereotypical overtones. He does so without pointing fingers or assigning blame. Everyone is guilty; no race, gender, class, or ideology is spared. Crash also probes the depths of American prejudice by addressing the unintended consequences of both affirmative action and political-correctness. It’s this reluctance to strictly adhere to an ideological agenda that empowers Crash with its universal appeal. By not being preachy, the film is better able to relate its themes to viewers from every type of background and perspective. It’s an entertaining film. Hopefully, it also makes each us think twice about the way in which we relate to our fellow man. If so, then Crash is more than just a film; it’s a world-changing experience.