BlackNLA Movie Reviews

*****THE REEL DEAL: Reviewz from the Street*****

by Edwardo Jackson

BIASES: late 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare


MOVIE BIASES: Complex, adult drama, with an all-star cast at the beginning of summer popcorn season? Pre-sold.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Matt Dillon (Wild Things),
Terrence Howard (The Best Man), Thandie Newton (Beloved), and co-writer/director Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby)

"In LA, nobody touches you… We miss that touch so much, we crash into each other just so we can feel something." Don't I know it. Sprawling, diverse, hopelessly detached, the Los Angeles I live in bears no resemblance to the glamorous, sunny image it exports to the world through its primary industry. Finally, here is a movie that dares peel back the sterile, celluloid epidermis of the city to reveal a simmering cauldron of emotion that speaks to us all, forcing you to collide with it. With yourself. To "Crash."

LA isn't just TV directors (Howard) and trophy wives (Newton). Over the course of some 36 hours, lives of Angelenos pinball off each other in surprisingly huge and little ways. A black revolutionary carjacker (Ludacris) and his eclectic partner (Larenz Tate) jack the Navigator of the cagey District Attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his fiery, ignorant wife (Sandra Bullock) during an election year. Racist veteran
LAPD officer (Dillon) stops the TV director and his wife without much probable cause to cop a feel – much to the disgust of his young, do-gooder partner (Ryan Phillippe). A Latino locksmith (Michael Pena) struggles to provide a better life for his traumatized daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez). Persian shopowner (Shaun Toub) receives and dishes out racism in a post-9/11 world, much to the chagrin of his daughter
(Bahar Soomekh). Partnered detectives (Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito) sleep together but never really connect. The common thread between allthese stories, besides coincidence, fate, and the city of Los Angelesthat pushes them together, is our society's inescapable elephant in the room, the social pachyderm of race.

Pure, undiluted Oscar bait hailing from honest, sincere origins (Haggis got the idea from surviving his real life carjacking), "Crash" is more than my new movie of the year, but a true cinematic experience. Heartbreaking in its humanity, this film is a staggeringly well-scripted kaleidoscope of life where everyone's story is just as
important as the other's. Haggis and co-writer Bobby Moresco throw stereotypes in your face like water balloons, hoping they explode with a sense of shock and glee. Despite cascading with tension and breathtaking human drama, the script is alarmingly funny – alarming because of how easily you find yourself laughing at all the politically incorrect humor that defuses stereotypes by acknowledging their existence as stereotypes (after all, stereotypes are born from an inkling of truth, no?).

If you can feel that, then the complexity is just beginning. Although a seasoned TV director himself and the Oscar-nominated writer of "Million Dollar Baby," Haggis makes his big screen directorial debut with a startling, visually poetic style that suits his writing like Armani. Girded by a haunting, minimalist score of disconnection by Mark Isham (Miracle), Haggis' frightfully powerful script makes for a hard, strong movie which had my audience on the verge of tears half of the time and snatching our breath away with disarming, gallows race humor the other half.

Granted, he had a lot of help. Another stalwart performance by the impeccable Don Cheadle. Knock-me-over-with-a-whisper surprising and utterly convincing performance by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as the faux-deep, conspiracy theorist carjacker (bathe yourself in the irony during a scene where his character hectors Tate's about the shallow, slur-infested state of hip-hop today; priceless!). Dillon, as a raging racist who feels slighted by his father's emasculation due to affirmative action, is pitch perfect while his character goes on to savagely emasculate another. Terrence Howard is incapable of a flat performance, boiling over with so much raw, tangible pain and helplessness that anyone (especially this black man) can relate to his naked humanity. The outstanding performances go on and on – not an unbelievable one in the bunch – yet I have a favorite. Michael Pena and Ashlyn Sanchez flat out steal the movie with their sweet-yet-not-saccharine, wholly realistic father-daughter relationship. They share an incredibly touching scene that not only
adds gravitas to their storyline, but also to the entire movie.

Again, I have to go back to this incredibly layered, complex, humane script. There goes that word again – humanity. As an African-American, I could be satisfied, if not outright overjoyed, at having seen more thoughtful, complicated minority humanity on screen in this one film than in a year's slate of all studio flicks COMBINED. I could be, but it's more than just that. This is the type of provocative, incendiary, independent filmmaking sure to move minds, if not hearts. "Crash" shows how amazing life and its situations can draw out both the best and the worst in us; how it can turn cowards into heroes, racists into saviors, as well as pristine heroes into subliminally racist cowards - all in the space of a car fire or a
misconstrued laugh. In other words, it's a studio's nightmare.

Then, to quote Christopher Williams, "don't wake me – I'm dreaming." "Crash" is so good, you feel sympathy for a carjacker. It's a powerful examination of just how human we are – once we acknowledge and accept the differences that make us unique are just a veneer over the humanity that binds us together. This movie is so powerful, so real, it plays chicken with your emotions, daring you to blink. Don't.

"You think you know who you are. You have no idea." This movie does. It is us. All of us.

@@@@ REELS
An urban legend/instant classic.

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Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at

© 2004, Edwardo Jackson