The Los Angeles experiment
With no special conceit, no single “big idea,” “Crash” isn’t what most viewers would call an experimental film.The absence of handheld cameras, indie conventions, real-time pacing or fake-documentary pretensions notwithstanding, that’s basically what “Crash” is. It’s an experimental film, with Los Angeles as the instrument Paul Haggis carefully calibrated to measure the impacts of a single, controlled event – a car accident.While Kimberly says it’s about racism, I think that puts too fine a point on “Crash,” and saying it’s about race relations is either misleading or sounds as dry as a sociology textbook. “Crash” is not as simple as black or white or even the shades in between. In “Crash,” it’s black, white, both, neither, gray and beyond.That “beyond” is probably the easiest trap for “Crash” to fall into, and Haggis’ intuition of “beyond” is the movie’s greatest strength. I said “intuition” instead of “sensitivity” for a reason: Every time “Crash” runs into a potential stereotype, it changes direction, which isn’t so unusual in the wake of political correctness. What is unusual is that the direction it goes is deeper, and it frequently changes direction again to stop short of the movies that try hard to be smart before taking the easy way out and ending up at the direct opposite of the easy stereotype.”Crash” doesn’t need to keep raising and making the big issues bigger because those issues are of the utmost importance to its multidimensional characters. There’s nothing broad here, and with a few exceptions – Ludacris’ screed against hip-hop – it doesn’t even take the popular ironic anti-stereotyping route.And it’s not just the script. “Crash” demands the actors’ sensitivity in lockstep precision. That might not seem like such an epic assignment for Don Cheadle or Thandie Newton. But it demands Ludacris play a carjacker without turning him into the thinking man’s thug with a heart of gold; Matt Dillon can’t get lackadaisical and make it too easy to hate or like his racist cop character; Brendan Fraser dare not let more than just the right amount of meathead slip into his district attorney; and Sandra Bullock must be cute enough for sympathy, but prickly enough for it to stop exactly when Haggis says.There’s a pretty good chance some viewers will say “Crash” doesn’t depict what actually happens accurately – that we fall into stereotypes easier than the characters do. I say it’s Haggis’ experiment. “Crash” sorts it out.There’s a pretty good chance some viewers will say “Crash” doesn’t depict what actually happens accurately – that we fall into stereotypes easier than the characters do. I say it’s Haggis’ experiment. “Crash” sorts it out.
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