‘Crash’ Collides With Racial Issues

‘Crash’ is a misleading title for Paul Haggis’ directorial debut.
Sure, it’s a movie that pivots around horrible accidents, and there’s no small number of people colliding with each other, both literally and figuratively.
But in this celluloid study of racial tensions in Los Angeles, the iniquities and prejudices of any particular character are so obvious that watching the movie sometimes feels as if you’re watching an exceptionally well-acted soap opera.
‘Crash’ tells the story of no less than a dozen Los Angelenos of different ethnicities and classes who are drawn violently together by the very racism that keeps them, for all intents and purposes, apart. There are almost no angels in Haggis’ Los Angeles; most everyone, regardless of their race, is to some degree a racist themselves.
Graham Waters (movingly played by Don Cheadle) is a black cop who flippantly designates his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) as ‘Mexican,’ though she is half-Salvadorian and half-Puerto Rican.
Two young black men (Lorenz Tate and Anthony ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) gripe to each other outside a busy restaurant about the service they had been given, chalking it up to the stereotype that ‘black people don’t tip,’ seconds before they pull out their guns and hijack an SUV.
Then there’s the district attorney (Brendan Fraser) who wonders what he can do to make himself more appealing to black voters, even as his wife (Sandra Bullock) wonders whether the tattooed man fixing the lock on their door is a gang banger.
If these characters accurately represent a cross-section of Los Angeles, it’s a wonder that the city hasn’t succeeded in razing itself to the ground.
Then again, this isn’t really Los Angeles, though it looks a lot like it. Haggis’ version of the city looks and feels like a post-Rodney King ‘Animal Farm,’ where the characters are so duplicitous that they become stereotypes themselves.
The result is that it is hard to be surprised by anything that they do. These characters don’t crash into each other so much as they are ferried along by Haggis’ well-meaning but at times overbearingly allegorical storytelling.
Even when Haggis tries to humanize his characters in the second half of the movie, by this point he has gone to such great lengths to expose the flaws within each of them that any attempt to redeem them feels like the cinematic equivalent of someone forcing medicine down your throat.
In the case of Cheadle, however, it’s medicine for which audiences should be thankful. His performance as Graham is unembellished and controlled, but in one particularly wrenching scene, at the moment when you might expect that fa