Best Film of 2005 (so far)

Writer-director Paul Haggis’ powderkeg film Crash is the most uncomfortably realistic look at American racism since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. This film, in fact, provides a good counterpoint to Lee’s 1989 film. Both films take place in a single 24-hour period, but whereas Do the Right Thing was set in a single crowded, sweltering Brooklyn neighborhood where multiple ethnicities had to rub elbows all day long, the characters in Crash are spread out among the sprawling suburbs and freeways of Los Angeles, a city where races are brought together only by coincidence and happenstance. A white cop pulls over a black motorist, a Latino locksmith is hired by an Iranian shopkeeper, a white couple is carjacked by two black youths. Yet in every instance, looks are deceiving as one character’s assumptions of another – almost always informed solely by racial stereotypes – are soon proven wrong. And so the locksmith who looks like a gangbanger is a devoted family man, the suburban housewife who seems to have it all is secretly miserable, the tough-talking carjacker isn’t as cold-blooded as he seems, and on and on. These vignettes are strung together in a complex cause-and-effect daisy chain of sequences in which each character’s choices impacts others in unexpected ways, subtly making the point that we’re all in this together. Haggis, who wrote Million Dollar Baby, is at the top of his game here, making an impressive directorial debut and getting powerful performances from just about everyone in an ensemble cast that clearly relish these roles, packed as they are with big, showy emotional swings of rage, grief, and fear. Particular standouts are Matt Dillon and Terence Howard, but even Sandra Bullock shows some unexpected depth and range here. A must see.

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