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Movie Review ****

A Series of Fortunate Events

By Bill Andrews


Directed by Paul Haggis

Written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco

Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, and William Fitchtner

Rated R

If it hadn’t been for a series of coincidences and luck, I might never have seen the movie Crash. My girlfriend first found out about it a month ago from an old issue of Entertainment Weekly that she found lying around. She told me, “Hey, this seems like a weird idea for a movie: the screenwriter and his wife had their car stolen after renting something from Blockbuster, a weird movie about Norwegian fishermen or something, and after he recovered from the shock of it, he wondered what the carjackers must have thought of them for having rented such a weird movie.” Intriguing, sure, but so what? Intriguing tidbits are what Entertainment Weekly is all about, and besides, there are bigger, better movies to watch.

One month later, the next bit of luck happened. A friend told us there would be free hot air balloon rides in the Boston Common. My girlfriend and I brought movie passes that I’d recently won since we were going to be so close to the Loews at the Common; we figured heck, you never know. When we found out it was too windy for hot air ballooning, we decided to see what was playing. At a theater that big, odds are that something good’s playing soon. We saw that Crash was playing in 15 minutes and cashed in our passes.

What luck! The movie rocked; both my girlfriend and I loved it. It featured a star-studded cast including (but not limited to) an unusually mean Sandra Bullock, a refreshingly adult Brendan Fraser, and a shockingly legitimate Ludacris. The soundtrack was perfect, only adding to the emotional energy, never taking away. But the true greatness, we both felt, lay in the story.

Set in L.A., a myriad of characters with only the barest connections to one another face two difficult days. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like much to get excited about. “And,” you might be asking, “what does that have to do with the intriguing tidbit revealed to us by Entertainment Weekly?” The answer, of course, is everything.

Most obviously, two of the main characters are carjackers who have a great conversation with social and religious commentary while evading the police. After watching the movie, it’s almost too easy to imagine them talking about what kind of person would rent such a dumb movie (answer: a white one) and mocking them to no end. But more subtly, talking about what makes other people, other ethnicities, weird is one of the driving forces behind the movie. Many of the characters are part of the LAPD, which is notorious for racial discrimination and bigotry; if we are to believe Crash (and Avenue Q’s famous song), everyone’s a little bit racist.

While it would be too grandiose to say that Crash teaches us that everyone is equal, it would be fair to say it shows how similar everyone is. Every character is socially aware, all too conscious of the position that society (or The Man) puts him in. Of course, not everyone accepts it the same way. Also uniting the characters are the tenuous links that bind them, showing how closely everyone is related, even in a big city like L.A. One of the carjackers bumps into a television producer, whose wife was harassed by a cop, whose partner picks up the other carjacker. The whole movie’s like that.

But I think the “we’re all related, we’re all the same” theme is the lesser of two. At one point, a character the audience has been despising has a nasty fall, maybe even a deadly one. My girlfriend was in the middle of bad-mouthing this character to me (“That bitch! I can’t believe she —”) when she took her fall; immediately, that switched to “Oh no, I hope she’s okay.” It’s occurred to me that this reaction is one of the great things about people; as much as you may hate someone, deep down, you still want them to be all right, or at least alive. Many of the characters (though not all by any means) are odious, spiteful, terrible people, but they still do good things and help others. They suck, but they’re still human.

In showing us this, Crash reminds us what it is to be human. Yes, we are capable of terrible things (my girlfriend burst into tears at one particularly sad moment, something I’d never seen her do before), but we’re capable of good things too, things like mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Kind of a grandiose statement, sure, but it was a grandiose movie. And it was pretty funny, too.