Los Angeles is the city of angels -“ and cars. It’s also a city of minorities and ethnic tensions that once exploded in race riots that rocked the city for days, making it an ideal setting for director Paul Haggis to tackle the issue of racism in America post-9/11.

His inventive and often challenging film follows what happens after two young black men (Chris Ludacris Bridges and Larenz Tate) car-jack the LA district attorney’s black 4WD.

It follows the ripple effect and the people it affects -“ from the DA’s unnerved wife (Sandra Bullock), the Mexican locksmith (Michael Pe?who changes the door locks at the DA’s house, to the troubles that follow the young carjackers; the black television director and his wife in their identical black 4WD who are pulled over by the experienced cop and his rookie partner -¦ and more.

Haggis has said that Crash isn’t really about race or class -“ it’s about fear of strangers -¦ how we all hate to be judged but see no contradiction in judging others.

And while racism isn’t simple, the writers seem to say, flicking out a racist slur is the easy shorthand way to respond to strangers.

But one of the most satisfying aspects of Crash is the complexity Haggis and co-writer Bobby Moresco imbue in each of the characters.

Ryan Phillippe’s Officer Hansen is so offended by the racist behaviour of his partner -“ Officer Ryan, played by Matt Dillon -“ he asks to be transferred but is then later caught up in the nightmare his own racism brings.

And Ryan shows another completely contradictory side to himself when he rescues a black woman from a burning car.
Crash is built on contradiction.

There’s no single, simple, black and white motivation. It’d be un-human -“and it wouldn’t be Haggis, who in his second feature as writer/producer adapted Million Dollar Baby for the screen, the gift that that film was.

Surprising at every twist, every eruption of the plot, Crash‘s power unfolds in the quality of the script and class performances from a stellar cast.

Crash is Haggis’s d?t in the feature director’s chair and it’s a remarkable achievement, rightly compared to modern masterpieces Short Cuts and Magnolia for its capacity to interweave stories and link characters in a solid, unpredictable and satisfying narrative.

Aside from some slivers of cheese and treacle in its closing scenes, this is breathtaking seat-edge cinema.

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