Thursday, December 07, 2006

Crash (2004)



I'd been wanting to see Crash ever since the film won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture earlier this year. Even though the movie was a 2004 release, it wasn't eligible for the 2005 Academy Awards because of a technicality regarding the rules, so that pushed its eligibility to the 2006 awards show when it unexpectedly beat out Brokeback Mountain for the biggest win of the evening. That gave writer/director Paul Haggis back-to-back wins in the Best Picture category, something that I don't think has ever happened before.

Crash features an ensemble cast of big-name stars including Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate, and the rapper Ludacris. All of these actors play Los Angeles residents who are affected by racism in some way. In some cases, like that of Matt Dillon as LAPD veteran John Ryan, the person is a racist themselves. In others, like that of Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton, they are victims of racism. Either way, racism is definitely one of the major themes of this film.

This is the kind of movie where the storylines overlap each other and where there's no distinct timeline or single plot to follow. Therefore, it would be impossible to give a summary here; instead I'll highlight the elements of the film that I liked and those that I didn't.

The first thing that I noticed about Crash was the talent of the actors involved in the project. Matt Dillon received a lot of recognition for his turn as Officer Ryan and was even nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He was indeed very good and certainly deserves all the attention he got. But personally, I didn't think his performance was the best one in the movie.

Instead, I think Michael Pena, who played locksmith and upstanding family man Daniel, took those honors. Pena's performance really stood out even amongst all those marquee names, and I immediately sat up straighter and paid more attention whenever his character was on the screen. He was brilliant in all of his scenes and really stole the show as far as I'm concerned.

I was also surprised at how well Ludacris did in his role as Anthony. I know that a lot of musicians try to make the jump from the recording studio to the movie studio (and vice versa for actors), but not many of them actually have talent in both areas. I'll stop short of saying that Ludacris was excellent, but he was definitely very good.

For me, the storylines presented in Crash were secondary to the performances. They were mostly used just to set up each character and give viewers a chance to see who these people were and what they typically had to deal with every day of their lives. The stories themselves weren't particularly important to the film and actually didn't stand out very much at all.

Out of all the storylines that were presented, I have to go back to Daniel and say that his was the most compelling for me. The other characters in the movie all had their good points and their bad points, and both sides were shown by director Haggis. Daniel was the only major character that did not exhibit racism in any way in the film. He never made assumptions about the kind of people he encountered and didn't do or say anything that was racially motivated. He was just an upstanding man who was trying to do his best to provide for his family while having to deal with the all the stereotypes that go along with being a Latino man with tattoos and baggy pants in L.A.

Overall, I thought Crash was a very good film and will definitely be worth your time to watch. However, I have to admit that one of the biggest reasons I watched the movie was to compare it to Brokeback Mountain to see which movie should have won as Best Picture. As far as that goes, I have to agree with all the people who think Brokeback was robbed because I felt it was a stronger, more compelling, more complete work than Crash was. But I guess the Academy voters know best, don't they?

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