Starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock
Co-written and directed by Paul Haggis.
Opens Friday, May 6
A frank drama about racial conflict in Los Angeles, Crash is often as blunt and shocking as its title implies. With its intertwined storylines, cast of familiar actors and slick, bracing style, it boasts the same basic DNA as Magnolia and Short Cuts, connecting a set of characters that includes a cynical detective (Don Cheadle), a hothead racist cop (Matt Dillon) and a spoiled society wife (Sandra Bullock). What makes the film so fresh is the way it barrels into ugly, angry territory that most Hollywood fare works hard to avoid.
Most Americans would prefer to ignore all the hypocrisy, hate and fear that Crash dredges up maybe thats why it took a Canadian to conceive the movie. Paul Haggis left London, Ontario, to go make movies in Hollywood in the early 70s. A few decades later, he found himself earning seven figures a year. Not bad, except for the fact that he wasnt making movies he was making TV. Hed started off with pretty bad TV, writing for Norman Lear shows like One Day at a Time. Eventually, he did good TV winning Emmys for thirtysomething, creating or helping develop Due South, City and the pre-Sopranos mob drama EZ Streets. But by the time he was working on his last show, Family Law, he was sick of it all.
And so Haggis quit TV and wrote two screenplays on spec. One script was based on a short story by an old fight manager. That project turned into Million Dollar Baby youve heard enough about it. The other script was Crash, not to be confused with the J.G. Ballard book or the movie by David Cronenberg. Haggiss script was based on his own reaction when he and his wife were carjacked at gunpoint in Los Angeles.
"I woke up at two in the morning with this idea thatd been nagging at me for years," says Haggis. "Id always wondered what happened to these two kids whod stolen my car. So I dragged myself down to my office and started to write about them. I thought, Well, what happened to the people they bumped into? That was obviously my wife and I at the time, but I imagined these people werent exactly who we were. OK, what did we do? We went home and we changed the locks on the house because they had our keys. We had to get a locksmith out at 1 a.m. What if the locksmith who came was a gangbanger or a young guy who had tattoos? How would we have felt about that? And how would the locksmith feel if he overheard what we said? So I just kept following these characters. When I finished, I had no idea if I had a movie or a story or anything."
But he did have a movie. Moreover, it was the sort of movie that frightened studios as easily as it attracted stars, all of whom agreed to work for peanuts. Working with co-writer and producing partner Bobby Moresco, Haggis directed the movie himself, shooting on a small budget in the city that inspired it.
"Another reason I wrote this was because of all my white liberal friends who would tell you that there are no real race problems in L.A.," says Haggis. "They believe that 10 years ago, we took care of that.
"We just dont see it because we are so ghettoized in this city. You can be in your house and then go out and get in your car and stay inside your glass till you get all the way to your office. Then you go to your favourite restaurant and then get back to your office or studio and then back home. And the only people of colour we see are the invisible people our housekeepers, our gardeners, some delivery guy. This isnt like a city where you have to walk down the street and youre forced to bump into people who are very different than you are you can have a very protected viewpoint. But its not the way things are, thats for sure."
Haggis says he learned about prejudice back in London, where he grew up Catholic in a Protestant neighbourhood. "I remember telling my mom when I was six years old that I wished there were more Catholics around because all the Christians wanted to do was fight," he says. "I didnt realize that we were Christians as well. What I learned is that if you put two identical people in a room for long enough, one will have to find differences in the other in order to feel superior to the other person. We just have this thing as human beings: we hate equality."
That ugly lesson is everywhere in Haggiss new movie, which clearly benefits from both his outsider perspective and the writing skills he honed in TV. "Being an outsider helped me to see things. So did having many of the same fears but not the exact same prejudices that others did. All that certainly helped me in writing Crash."