Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Crash (2004) – We All Have the Potential to Love and the Potential to Hate

Written by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco
Directed by Paul Haggis

(Written in 2006. I didn’t want to rewrite any of my thoughts from then)

Racism is prevalent in society today. It’s not as overt as the white-hooded figures of the past, but it’s often there bubbling just below the surface. The Academy Award-winning film Crash will make many people uncomfortable as it shows what’s bubbling below the surface in many of us, even those you would least expect of being able to be racist. It also shows that no matter what the color or nationality, all people are capable of racism.

Directed by Paul Haggis, Crash is a look at a slice of life and the effects of race in Los Angeles during a 36-hour period. The opening scene is also the closing scene and how the two people present there managed to get to that point is shown in something of a flashback as the lives of residents of the city of various races and socioeconomic statuses are shown.

Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser are Jean and Rick Cabot. She is neurotic, racist, possessive, and more. He is a District Attorney who is likely staying in a less than satisfactory marriage due to the potential political fallout. Following a night out for dinner, they are car-jacked. Upon returning to their home in a very upscale neighborhood, she doesn’t feel safe and wants the locks changed. She wants them changed again when she pegs the locksmith as a “gang-banger” due to all of his tattoos.

Don Cheadle is Graham Waters, an LAPD detective with a bright future. His girlfriend Ria (portrayed by Jennifer Esposito) is Hispanic. He comes from a crack-addicted mother (portrayed by Beverly Todd) and a brother, Peter (portrayed by Larenz Tate) who too often falls on the other side of the law as well.

Matt Dillon is John Ryan, a racist LAPD beat officer who’s been on the force for many years. He’s got a rookie partner, Tom Hansen (portrayed by Ryan Phillipe). One night they stop an African-American television producer and his wife in an incident that makes Phillipe uncomfortable.

The fallout from that incident almost breaks that couple apart. Cameron and Christine Thayer (Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton) have never really discussed racism before as the two come from entirely different worlds. Up until now, Cameron believed his success had helped him put all that behind him but as the fallout from the racist incident permeates his being, he begins to fall apart.

A Persian store owner, Farhad (portrayed by Shaun Toub) copes with a break-in and decides to purchase a gun. He and his daughter deal with prejudices based on the fallout following 9/11 and he sees someone out to take him at every turn. He also has an encounter with Daniel the Hispanic locksmith (portrayed by Michael Pena) and also thinks he is getting conned. When his store is robbed a second time, he blames Daniel for it. Daniel is just
trying his best to provide a better life for his wife and daughter.

Throughout Crash incidents abound including car-jacking, racial profiling, vandalism, murder, and car accidents all over the place. People get angry and descend into conversations where they use language we normally recoil from in horror.

At the same time, there’s some hope. There are moments when I could see the same people I thought were all-bad rise to the occasion and be heroic, or just show genuine remorse for their past actions.


I wonder how different the impact of the movie would have been on the Matt Dillon character if he didn’t manage to save Christine Thayer, whom he had previously molested, from the car accident and fire. What if those moments he lost due to her fright at seeing him again as her rescuer ended up costing her life? It would have been a pivotal difference and potentially life-altering in a self-destructive way for that officer.

One of my complaints about the film is that the effect this incident has on Cameron and Christine’s relationship in light of what they’ve been through in the last day over this issue is never delved into, making me wonder if that was the way the scene was originally written.


The ensemble cast is stellar. There wasn’t a weak performance in the group. Sandra Bullock gives a performance like I’ve never seen before from her. She’s bitchy and belligerent and not a nice person at all until a warm moment near the end of the film. The way Brendan Fraser talks is likely typical of every politician who’s trying to get into an elected office at one time or another and pandering to get the vote.

Rick: All right. If we can’t duck this thing, we’re gonna have to neutralize it. What we need is a picture of me pinning a medal on a black man. The firefighter – the one that saved the camp or something – Northridge… what’s his name?
Bruce: He’s Iraqi.
Rick: He’s Iraqi? He looks black.
Bruce: He’s dark-skinned, sir, but he’s Iraqi, his name’s Saddam Hassif.
Rick: His name’s Saddam? Oh, that’s great, Bruce. Yeah, I’m gonna pin a medal on an Iraqi named Saddam. Give yourself a raise, won’t you?

The humor is in the film in moments like this, although there’s still a racist overtone to it. The rapper Ludacris gets some of the best lines as he points out everyone’s racism and then in ironic moments time after time engages in behavior that’s the direct catalyst for this racism.

Anthony: That waitress sized us up in two seconds. We’re black and black people don’t tip. So she wasn’t gonna waste her time. Now somebody like that? Nothing you can do to change their mind.
Peter: So, uh… how much did you leave?
Anthony: You expect me to pay for that kind of service?

Don Cheadle is probably the character in the center of everything the most and he had such a subtle way of conveying the hurt and pain he was feeling at the expense of his family that my heart genuinely went out to the character.

That is what draws me most to Crash as I’ve watched it several times now. The emotions are so real and raw. There’s a scene where Farhad confronts Daniel and the raw emotion which occurs during the scene nearly broke my heart the first time I saw it. Likewise, the scene between John Ryan and Christine where she’s absolutely terrified of him strikes a chord as I genuinely wasn’t sure what the outcome of the situation would be the first time I viewed it.

The camera shots are fantastic. Many of the scenes take place at night and in the shadows and I really appreciated the light play Haggis used to create a mood. The angles he used in other scenes were great too as they gave the situation more friction or softness, which sometimes caught me off guard. Haggis also was the main writer and that probably added to the overall quality as the dialogue between the characters and the mood of the scene really come together. What I expected to happen in a scene didn’t always happen and it was nice that he kept the movie from becoming predictable and preachy.

Although Los Angeles is the setting, I would think that people who live in and around almost any major city would feel the impact of Crash and perhaps also be a little uncomfortable as they see their own reflection in the characters to a certain degree. That may make some uncomfortable with the film. For those looking for a sense of justice, they won’t find it for just as in real life, sometimes the righteous get a raw deal, and those that deserve punishment don’t receive it.

However, Crash manages to be a great movie for a little introspection and possibly some discussion that people normally shy away from.


” DVD Introduction by Writer/Producer/Director Paul Haggis
” Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Paul Haggis, Writer/Producer Bobby Moresco, and Actor/Producer Don Cheadle
” Behind the Scenes
If I… Music Video by Kansacali
” Trailers

6 replies »

    • I just watched it again. It is sort of depressing as everyone has a good side and a bad side at points during the film. I think it’s meant to convey the “he who is without sin cast the first stone” mentality. At the same time, in 2004 there were many people who thought we were in a post-racism era. We have seen that is far from the case. This was sort of trying to sound that alarm at the time.

  1. I saw this one when it came out and it was very uncomfortable. It did open my eyes to things I’d never been exposed to and made them real… It reinforced the need for change.

    • Yes,it does. Ihave a very distinct memory of one unintentionally racist moment in my life and I still feel bad about it to this day. If only more people would take a hard look at their actions and own them we could move forward. It’s amazing to look at what I wrote in 2006 and think about where we are today. I think I thought it was somewhat exaggerated then – not anymore!