Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Bendan Fraser, Terence Howard, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillipe, Chris (‘Ludacris’) Bridges, Larentz Tate; Written and Directed by Peter Haggis, with Bobby Moresco, 113 minutes, Rated R.
Our “Land of the Pilgrims' Pride” now exists as a polyglot in very many places, and currently the role of the immigrant in our society rages as a divisive debate with strange allies and stranger bedfellows. We continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the Land Where Our Fathers Died, and the acceptance of slavery, which once divided the nation, and continues to be an uneasy subject.
These unwilling early immigrants, brought here in bondage, continue to work out establishing a more perfect union, with earlier arrivals and later immigrants more accepted because of pigmentary lack. Today's newer immigrants often arrive from peril at home, and many times under economic stress. As with most immigrants past, they huddle within the comfort of others with similar language, and struggle with problems with the hard-to-master English.
Those who speak the tongue of the old country as well as English can trade on that advantage for their gain as the middleman, but at the economic disadvantage of the immigrant. Some view these people as stealing the low-level jobs more deserved by the unemployed. Others are concerned that this class eats away at the upward mobility of our own lowest class.
Many want those who have made their way in without the customary niceties of entry to be deported, regardless of whether they leave family behind—often those who depend on them for their sustenance. We have hard hearts, often filled with malice without the charity toward all that Lincoln suggested and uttered 39 days before his assassination.
Crash runs head on into the issues of race, class, and immigrant status, and takes on subjects that we tip-toe through or more often avoid as too delicate, or at least too uncharted for us to venture into.
The movie collides from its start with a seemingly harmless fender bender that quickly turns to a raucous exchange of ethnic slurs and parodied behavior between a Latina woman and a Korean woman. You do not yet realize it, but this is the beginning of what reveals itself as one of eight separate strands of plot lines that weave into a cord and produce a tightly knotted story of America today as told from the land of Los Angeles, a parable of latter day pilgrim's pride.
Themes of racial stereotyping and hackneyed disrespect erupt from an unpleasant and mean-spirited gun shop owner, who calls an Iranian man attempting to purchase a hand-gun, “Osama.”
I cringed when the man's daughter asks for the necessary box of bullets or better, a refund from the man who treated this immigrant with a modern form of Jim Crow abuse. Two black men stroll nervously down a Beverly Hills boulevard chatting about how they need to be afraid in this neighborhood, just before they car-jack one of two black Navigators, this one owned by the district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock).
Cameron (Terence Howard), a black Hollywood director, pilots the other Navigator towards home with his attractive wife, Christine (Thandie Newton) in the passenger seat, but they are stopped and man-handled by two Los Angeles patrolmen played by Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe (Oscar-winning Reese Witherspoon's spouse in life).
The trauma affects Jean, and we see her obnoxiously and shrilly demanding that the locks on the house be changed again in the morning, as a scary, skin-headed, and richly tattooed and roly-poly young man labors to change the locks. He seems as if he's heard the slurs before, and frankly one has to wonder what he expects with his gang-banger appearance.
‘Inexorable Forces of Fate & Luck’
The movie weaves stories about the inexorable forces of fate and luck, and that appearances are rarely what they seem, and realities flow silently beneath the surface.
Never have I seen a movie that captures America as it is today, with funny lines that we can hear ourselves, our parents, or our friends uttering, and while we may feel the blush of shame when we see ourselves, there is a ring of authenticity in the dialogue.
Don Cheadle's character, Graham, a black Los Angeles detective, complains to his sidekick and lover Ria (Jennifer Esposito), “You Mexicans are all the same.” She patiently explains that her mother was from Puerto Rico, and her father was from El Salvador. He counters that with all the richly diverse Latino community, how come they all park their cars on their front lawns.
Racial stereotyping comes in many flavors and colors, from many different shades and skin tones. The cops that stop the black couple are contrasts. Dillon's Officer Ryan is filled with contempt and rage. His humiliation and degrading of Cameron's wife Christine is intended to humiliate both husband and wife.
Officer Hanson (Phillipe) is justifiably appalled by the abusive power exerted by his partner. The tendrils of each of these officers' stories weave and tangle to some of the more moving scenes in the movie. Hanson seems too good to be true, the white knight in blue uniform. His travels and altruism are tested over the ironic and mistaken implication of a St. Christopher dashboard idol, the expelled patron saint of travel plays deadly mind games in the final moments of the movie.
Officer Ryan almost seems the poster boy for bad cop. Matt Dillon squeezes every drop from this juicy role, where he oozes racism from every pore. But he is twice redeemed by the shining examples of another facet of his character, the devoted son and the truly heroic cop who risks his life to save someone who has every reason to hate him, and then as what everyone would define as a truly heroic act.
The painful theme of Ryan's suffering father deals with the hopeless complexity of the HMO “gatekeeper” who fails to recognize his urinary problem, properly work it up, seek consultation from a urologist, nor see the agony that the man is in.
Not only blacks and immigrants are enslaved by a mindless bureaucratic system that perpetuates suffering in order to maximize profit. It introduces capitalism at its worst, pitting Don't Care the HMO versus CareLess the cheaper alternative. Even the uninsured know that Ryan should have brought dad to the emergency room.
The movie's writer and director, Paul Haggis, also wrote Million Dollar Baby, 2004's Best Picture and vehicle for Hillary Swank and Clint Eastwood. Haggis has an eye for the true America, with burdened and guilt-ridden angst, but boiling rage millimeters beneath the surface. That was his film directorial debut after many years in television, and the cast marvelously portrayed fully dimensional characters that he created, no pure good or rank evil players, humans with strengths and weakness, flaws and shining brilliance of spirit, and unexpected twists of both good and bad fortune, as if moved by forces beyond our will or power.
Fate plays, and we are but wind chimes to its power. Daniel (Michael Pena), the chubby Latino locksmith plays the most unlikely hero. The scenes with his adorable little daughter, sleeping under the bed because she thought she heard gun shots, and his magical solution to make her feel safe will warm the coldest heart. And the incredible protection that his magic provides will leave you holding your breath.
Some have complained that this movie is too contrived, the characters too perfectly scripted, the scenes and racism, sexism, ethnic stereotyping too pat to be believed, and the story subtly preachy. Haggis said that he hoped it stimulated conversation. I can attest that it is an enzyme for good people to let down their guard and talk. I saw the political correctness, the pandering, and falsity played perfectly and authentically.
Some have become deaf to moral issues, others hear the problems and redefine them only through a personal lens that misses the moral imperative.
We have these stories and these people in Detroit. “You people,” each and all will enjoy this movie. Do not miss the opportunity to see it, and see yourself, and find a whispering voice of conscience assaulting you.
The crash will unfold, the collision will be dissected, and you will feel sadness and remorse, but also uplifted and hopeful if you are lucky.