First, allow me to confess - I hated Paul Haggis' Million Dollar Baby script and I honestly got precious litte out of the film. Morgan Freeman playing a sterotypical, wise old African-American gent, the relentless monologue, the good guy/bad guy Clint Eastwood routine, etc... - it just annoyed me from beginning to end. So when it came to Crash, I was wondering what tired old clichés Haggis was going to dispense this time round. Thankfully, they are rather few and far between and the difference between the two films couldn't be any starker. The film begins unsurprisingly with a car crash. Ria (Eposito) and Graham (Cheadle), two detectives from the LAPD, while arriving at a crime scene off the freeway, have been rear-ended and spun around. Graham takes this relatively well, reeling off some platitudes about modern society and then heads off to investigate the crime scene but Ria chooses to confront the other driver, a middle-aged lady of south-east Asian extraction. In the anger of the moment, both exchange a series of insults, mostly based on ethnic stereotyping but the camera pulls away to introduce us to Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Larenz Tate) - two African Americans stuck in the middle of a white area. Anthony harps on for a while about the stereotyping of African-Americans in modern America but, at the drop of a hat, slots into stereotype mode and hi-jacks a luxurious car from a white couple (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock) who just so happen to be the local DA and his wife enjoying a night out...
As the film rolls on the ordinary lives of a large cast comprising almost exclusively strong characterisations, the stories mingle, crossover and sometimes interact in a similar fashion to what he have seen from Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson (it's strange to realise that when it comes to multi-stranded stories, LA has claimed the lion's share). The connections between the lives is sometimes contrived but often works quite well though it doesn't attain the sheer fluency set out by the aforementioned directors. The topic however is very much a worthy issue that is too often explored retrospectively on the silver screen, as if the haze of history can give us some comfort. Haggis puts us in the hear and now of LA stating the events we are seeing happened just "yesterday" and draws heavily from his own car-jacking experience over 15 years ago. Haggis script doesn't settle for simple demarcation lines with each character demonstrating the same ability to be both altruistic and racist, sometimes in the same scene. The politics of racism are also explored with the DA character, desperate to spin his car-jacking experience in a positive light as well as Cheadle's character, a hard-working cop, who finds himself often being reduced to a standard-bearer.
The evenness of Haggis exploration is what makes the film such an effective and relatively original piece but, simultaneously, it does also give the film a certain ambiguity. It underlines the flaws of positive discrimination as much as it demonstrates how hermetically shut the higher ranks of society can be for ethnic minorities. The voices who are calling Crash a ground breaking film may not be completely wrong but it is more of a very good film rather than a clear classic.
The film is given a stable and clean anamorphic transfer with the slightly dulled palette faithfully restored with the correct colour levels. The blacks are quite stable with little trouble in the compression. A good transfer.
The multi-lingual (though mostly English) soundtrack is present in both 5.1 and 2.0. The film centres a lot on dialogue which tends to be focused in the central speakers but the 5.1 track makes some use of surround without going crazy on it. The levels are set correctly and the voices are clear and crisp. As stated, parts of the film are not in English and this is sometimes subtitled (burnt-into the image) sometimes not - this however is Haggis' choice and the DVD reflects to the best of my memory the same pattern as the cinematic release.
It's disappointing to not see any deleted scenes coming to light - instead we get a fairly engaging and detailed commentary from Haggis, Cheadle (who also co-produced) and Bobby Moresco (co-writer) which is well worth listening to. A brief behind the scenes (10 mins. 4:3) with interviews and snippets from the film - it's quite typical in it's largess in the backslapping section and doesn't really bring much to the party. Added to this is some more filler in the shape of a Music Video by Kansascali, the trailer and a very brief introduction from Haggis (thanks for the money and here's the film).
This is obviously going to receive a more extensive release in the future so it's a tad disappointing the DVD is relatively short on substantial extras - beyond the commentary there is little there to get our teeth into. Apart from that, this is a good transfer of a very good directorial debut by Haggis.