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Film / Crash

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If you're looking for the J.G. Ballard novel which inspired a completely different film directed by David Cronenberg, go here.

"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."
Det. Graham Waters

Crash is a 2004 crime drama film directed by Paul Haggis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bobby Morseco. A self-described "passion piece" of Haggis, the film premiered at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival in the fall before seeing general release the following May.

This ensemble drama, featuring an All-Star Cast, addresses racism affecting the lives of several Los Angelenos as they intersect over several days' time. The incident that starts it all off is the carjacking of a white couple, the Cabots, by two black carjackers, Anthony and Peter...

Crash won three Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adopt the Dog: Anthony releasing the vanload of illegal immigrants rather than selling them.
  • Affably Evil: Peter is a carjacker who robs people at gunpoint. When not plying his trade, he's quite a good-natured, friendly, unassuming fellow, and the voice of reason to Anthony's non-stop angry ranting and sense of victimhood.
  • All Muslims Are Arab: A Muslim family’s store is horribly vandalized, and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs are spray-painted on the walls. Seeing this, the wife of the store owner remarks that they are Persian, not Arab.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: At point blank range, the gases that leave a gun when fired, blank round or not, will cause serious burns to the target's face. That close, blanks can also still kill you.
  • Ambiguously Brown: A running gag with Ria as people constantly mistake her for being "mexican" or "white". She's actually of Puerto Rican and El Salvador descent.
  • Asian Drivers:
    • Towards the end of the film, causing said crash and with a heavy accent to boot. For a movie about racial stereotypes, this is pretty ironic, no?
    • Also occurs at the beginning of the film, and played with in Ria's racial insults.
  • Berserk Button: Ria hates it when people mistake her for a Mexican or a white woman.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Anthony's rant about why modern Hip Hop music sucks. Anthony is played by Ludacris, a hip-hop artist.
  • Broken Aesop: Despite the film proudly bearing an obstinately anti-racist message, the only two Koreans of any real importance to the plot turn out to be slave traffickers. See also Asian Drivers above.
  • Contrived Coincidence: There are many examples throughout the film, contrived to create links between the different characters. Perhaps the most obvious are Ryan being the police officer who rescued Christine from a burning car (after groping her during a pat-down the previous day), while Hansen just happened to be the police officer present during Cameron's breakdown to calm him down and save him from being shot by the other policemen.
  • Cop/Criminal Family: Waters is a detective in the LAPD, while his brother Peter is a carjacker. Which makes it extra tragic when he is called in to identify Peter's body, who was killed in a case of mistaken self-defense by another cop.
  • The CSI Effect: Invoked. When Anthony tries to sell an SUV with which he'd accidentally run over a man, the chop shop owner turns him down with a rant about how every week on TV some guy thinks he can outsmart the forensic experts and ends up going to jail with a stupid look on his face.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Changing the lock doesn't mean anything if the door isn't properly hinged to the wall.
  • The Dutiful Son: Waters continues to care for his mother despite her obvious favoring of his brother.
  • Embarrassing Cover Up: After the incident with the Thayers, Tom asks to be reassigned away from his partner John due to John's stark racism. However, since it would be incredibly detrimental to the careers of both Tom and his African-American superior to go on record about John's racism, they use a cover story of uncontrollable flatulence so Tom can have his own car.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Anthony may be an armed robber and carjacker, but aiding and abetting human trafficking is going to far for his sense of right and wrong.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Employed in one of this film's subplots as part of the anti-racism aesop. Sandra Bullock's character, a lonely woman married to a wealthy but frequently absent husband, has previously shown hostility to a Mexican repairman. Later on, she takes a fall in her home that leaves her unable to walk and she calls one of her white upper-class lady friends for help. Her "friend" ignores her plea, but her Mexican maid does come to her aid.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Waters is the detective who looks after his drug-abusing mother, while Peter (younger brother) is out carjacking with a friend and then gets shot. Tragically, their mother is utterly convinced throughout that it's Peter who is doing the caring.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • The reason for Officer Ryan's animosity towards black people, as he explains to Shaniqua Johnson, is that his father was a janitor all his life and helped African-Americans through his career. Later, the LA city council gave municipal contracts to the minority-owned businesses first, which wrecked his business (although his father had all-black employees).
    • The movie does imply that some of that animosity is a result of his experience as an LAPD cop. When he's having his final conversation with his former partner he tells him that he's still new on the force and doesn't yet know what to expect.
  • Heroic Fire Rescue: How Officer John Ryan gets his Character Development into a Noble Bigot with a Badge.
  • Hope Spot: Ryan gets one for a brief moment when he tells Shaniqua about how his father was kind to African-Americans in an attempt to get him seen by a doctor sooner:
    Ryan: You don't like me, that's fine. I'm a prick. My father doesn't deserve to suffer like this. He was a janitor. He struggled his whole life. Saved enough to start his own company. Twenty-three employees, all of them black. Paid 'em equal wages when no one else was doing that. For thirty years, he worked side by side with those men, sweeping and carrying garbage. Then the city council decides to give minority-owned companies preference in city contracts. And overnight, my father loses everything. His business, his home, his wife. Everything! Not once does he blame your people. I'm not asking you to help me. I'm asking that you do this small thing for a man who lost everything so people like yourself could reap the benefits. And do you know what it's gonna cost you? Nothing. Just a flick of your pen.
    Shaniqua: Your father sounds like a good man. And if he'd come in here today, I probably would've approved this request. But he didn't come in. You did. And for his sake, it's a real shame. (to guard) Get him the hell outta my office.
  • Hollywood Blanks: Farhad almost kills Daniel's daughter, but the girl's life is spared because his daughter bought blanks for his gun. However, at the range the shot was fired, a blank would still have been harmful, and potentially fatal.
  • Hyperlink Story: All the different stories of the many characters in the film are connected through racial conflict.
  • Hypocrite: Anthony loudly proclaims he would never rob a black man. Soon after, he and Peter target another car and the race of the victim makes no difference, other than that the victim, fed up with the prejudice he has already experienced, refuses to cooperate and then pulls an almost suicidal stunt with the police that saves Anthony from arrest.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Done rather darkly; most memorably, the carjacking that sets everything off is perpetrated after Anthony rants about why white Los Angelenos, the LAPD especially, would think the worst of them even if they aren't intimidating and vastly outnumbered by white people in the area with a danger of police harassment, so they should be scared instead.
      Anthony: "So you tell me, why aren't we scared?"
      Peter: "'Cause we got guns?"
      Anthony: "You could be right." (They rush off to carjack a rich white couple).
    • Anthony is a master at this. Just prior to the carjacking, he and Peter are leaving a restaurant and Anthony is complaining about the service, arguing that the waitress didn't serve them well because of the stereotype that blacks are bad tippers. When Peter asks Anthony how much of a tip he left, Anthony incredulously asks "You expect me to pay for that kind of service?"
  • Incoming Ham: Quite a bit, though Mrs Cabot's fuming racist tirade and Terrence Howard going Tupac on a cop who's stopped him stand out.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: When he and his partner pull over Christine and Cameron, Ryan takes the opportunity to grope the former and threatens to charge the latter if he tries to intervene.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Several of the characters, most notably Officer John Ryan. By his own admission he's a jerk, we see him go off on racially charged tirades and use a traffic stop as an excuse to grope a black woman. Yet in other ways he's a decent and brave man who will risk his own life to save that same woman from a burning car seconds before it explodes.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Hanson, who gets away with killing Peter and burns the evidence.
    • Officer Ryan, who uses his position to molest Christine. Nothing comes of this.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Cameron and his wife Christine get pulled over and harassed by racist cops simply for being "a black man married to a white woman". Christine lampshades this during an argument.
  • Mistaken Ethnicity: Ria is mistaken by other people of being "mexican" or "white" when she's actually descended from Puerto Rico and El Salvador.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Farhad's reaction when he ends up shooting Daniel's daughter and, by some miracle (to him), she's still alive. His daughter finds him spooked out of his mind in his store, contemplating what he had done.
    • Hanson after he shoots Peter for thinking he was pulling out a gun. It wasn't.
  • Nice Guy: Daniel Ruiz, the locksmith. He's a hard worker, family man, and doesn't hurl one racist insult with and without people around him. Even when Farhad accused Daniel of trying to cheat him, Daniel yells, but only telling him to change the door.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Officer John Ryan. He starts off as just plain bigoted, then gets slightly more noble when he saves the life of the black woman he sexually assaulted before by risking his life to drag her out of a burning car.
  • Pervy Patdown: Officer Ryan pulls a black couple over and gives the woman, Christine, a groping patdown in front of her husband.
  • Pet the Dog: Anthony lets the smuggled Southeast Asians go (with some money) rather than letting the chop shop owner sell them into what's basically slavery. The scene is probably a Heel–Face Turn implying that he may be done with being a criminal.
  • The Reveal: Several.
    • It turns out that Det. Waters' unseen brother is actually Peter the carjacker.
    • The box of pistol ammunition Farhad's daughter bought were blanks.
    • During the opening car crash scene, Kim Lee is initially portrayed as a stereotypical case of Asian Drivers. In the end, it's revealed that she was in the process of racing to the hospital to see her husband, who was missing after being run down by a car a day earlier.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Hansen shoots Peter in the chest because of this. But the "weapon" Peter took out was only a figurine that looked identical to the one Hansen had.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the 1991 film Grand Canyon, which features Steve Martin as a misanthropic Hollywood producer (playing against type) whose life intersects with characters from all walks of life in LA, and which popularized the notion that LA was a Wretched Hive of class and racial tension less than a year before the Rodney King riots. If not, in fact, The Remake of Grand Canyon.
  • Taking the Bullet: After Farhad's store is sacked and his insurance claim is denied, he confronts Daniel, who he blames, and winds up shooting him. Daniel's daughter decides to save him with her invisible cloak. Nobody dies because the bullets were blanks. Farhad thinks it's a miracle, and that the little girl is his angel. In fact his daughter (wisely) bought them instead as she was afraid someone would be hurt. Don't try this at home - at close range a blank will still kill you.
  • The Unfavorite: Heavily implied with Waters's relationship with his mother during the last scene: she blames him for Peter's death and calls him [Peter] her only son.
  • You Are What You Hate: Defied when Anthony, whose entire worldview is colored by the inescapability of racism and the history of slavery has a chance to sell a van load of Asian refugees into modern-day slavery. He ends up letting them go instead.
  • You No Take Candle: The Asian driver to the police officers and Ria saying that she "blake" too fast. Ria mocks her of this.