Directed by Paul Haggis. 2004.

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There is a process in a consciousness training course I took many years ago in which people pretend that they are scared to death of the person sitting beside them. When they discover that that person is scared to death of them, the only thing to do is laugh. Urban society breeds fear, intolerance and lack of trust, especially of strangers of different ethnic backgrounds whom we see as potential threats rather than as people with problems similar to our own. In Crash, Paul Haggis has the vision to see the thread of common humanity that connects us beyond the socially conditioned fear. He has assembled an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillipe and all are first rate. 

The film is divided into several episodes and, as it unfolds, seemingly unrelated threads intersect to form a connection. In the opening segment, as a young black man brazenly complains that white people automatically assume that all blacks are criminals, he and his partner incongruously hijack the SUV of a District Attorney Peter (Brendan Fraser) and his young wife Jean (Sandra Bullock). The carjacking by the two African Americans (Ludacris, Larenz Tate) leaves Jean in a racist outrage, demeaning her housekeeper Maria (Yomi Perry) and venting her anger on a locksmith Daniel (Michael Pena), a Mexican-American working in the house. Typical of many, she tells a friend on the phone, "I'm angry all the time and I don't know why." 

In one of the film's most touching episodes, Daniel returns home to provide his frightened young daughter with an invisible vest to protect her from harm. When Daniel tells an Iranian shopkeeper Farhad (Shaun Taub) that his door needs replacing, the shopkeeper becomes visibly upset and directs his anger toward Daniel who is only trying to provide security. When his store is vandalized, he buys a gun and threatens Daniel and his little girl in a heart-pounding scene that leads to a true epiphany. In another thread, TV director Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) are pulled over by a racist cop Ryan (Matt Dillon) who suspects some wrongdoing. His sexual touching of Cameron's wife, however, is humiliating for Christine and she becomes furious with her husband for standing by and letting it happen, irrationally ignoring the potential danger if he resisted. 

Taken aback by the ugly incident is Ryan's partner Hansen (Ryan Phillipe) who requests reassignment but soon has to confront his own demons when he gives a ride to a black hitchhiker. Meanwhile, a different side of Ryan is shown as he lovingly takes care of his sick father and rescues a black woman from certain death in a car accident. The final thread has Graham (Don Cheadle), a police detective, dealing with his estranged relationship with his wife Ria (Jennifer Esposito) and his mother who is a drug addict. Though the film is gritty and confrontational, the soothing music by Kathleen "Bird" York alleviates some of the shock and nastiness and reminds us that there is a divine melody always playing in the background of our lives. Though flawed by some contrived coincidences, Haggis has given us a crash course in confronting stereotypes and looking beyond outward appearances to see the humanity that people are capable of.


Howard Schumann
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