'Crash' amuses, fascinates, but never patronizes

Upon hearing that a movie is about racial tension, most people's gut reaction will be to stay away. In the case of "Crash," the directorial debut of writer/director Paul Haggis, the mind behind the "Million Dollar Baby" screenplay, audiences who are able to get past this fear will be rewarded with an incredible film. Edge-of-your seat drama and humorous dialogue combine to make an intelligent and insightful movie that still avoids being preachy.

The film revolves around multiple layered stories involving characters of various races living in Los Angeles with unknowingly intertwined lives. The characters have their flaws, but the audience is able to see why, so it's possible to be sympathetic even when they do or say something terrible.

Rick (Brendan Fraser) is a young white district attorney who must carefully plan his political moves to avoid upsetting the diverse community he represents. Rick's wife, a bitter and unhappy woman, is forced to evaluate her life after she and Rick are carjacked. The carjackers, played by Larenz Tate and Ludacris (yes, the rapper and yes, he acts well in this), discuss their qualms with the society they live in and the racism they face even as they participate in the stereotypes that hinder them.

Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) is a racist, veteran white cop who is angered by the lack of coverage his HMO provides for his ailing father. He partially blames affirmative action and takes his frustration out while on the job, deeply worrying his young partner, played by Ryan Phillippe. Cameron (Terrance Howard) is a well-off black television director who has worked to avoid racism, partially by ignoring it and even changing his lifestyle to get around it. For example, Cameron's wife, Christine (Thandie Newton), gets upset with him when Cameron stands idly by as she is mistreated by Ryan during a traffic stop.

Daniel (Michael Pena) is a Hispanic former gang member who now works hard as a locksmith in a new life. He has to deal with racism on the job while trying to be a loving father to his little girl.

Graham (Don Cheadle), a black detective who has risen from destitution to moderate success, has to deal with his sick mother and being involved in an interracial relationship with his partner (Jennifer Espinito).

Farhab (Shaun Toub), a Persian storeowner who is plagued by racism and misinformed bigotry, decides to buy a gun to defend himself and his family.

"Crash" gives a straightforward look into why people are they way they are and how miscommunication can mess things up even more. The film strives to show that people are more complicated than we like to think, by putting all the cards on the table to lay out the big picture. And thanks to the engrossing characters, all the sides are portrayed as objectively as possible. All the while, the film manages to stay entertaining through its riveting drama and occasional comedic relief. In the end, the film really makes viewers think about society and the way they think, while also remaining very entertaining, very natural and very human.

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