A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, as the film interrogates urban fears, violence, and racism, the language, particularly the use of racial epithets, is rough. The film also features several violent scenes, including a carjacking, a pedestrian hit by a car, a five-year-old child shot by a handgun (with her parents watching), and several car crashes. Policemen, detectives, district attorneys, and an insurance adjuster prove untrustworthy; characters steal cars, do drugs, drink, smoke cigarettes, and have sex (including implied oral sex in a car and a cop putting his hands on a woman's private parts, in front of her upset husband, under the guise of "patting her down.")
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What's the story?
CRASH weaves together a series of stories about post-9/11 fearfulness. The characters range and include L.A. detectives Graham (Don Cheadle) and his partner and lover, Ria (Jennifer Esposito), uniformed officers Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Thomas (Ryan Phillippe), petty thieves Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate), and TV director Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton). All of them make assumptions about others, based on appearance and the distress they've suffered in their own lives. After a violent carjacking, well-to-do Jean (Sandra Bullock) turns on her D.A. husband (Brendan Fraser), then accuses their young locksmith of looking like an untrustworthy gangbanger. Later, locksmith Daniel (Michael Peña) comforts his terrified little girl, who can't forget the gunshots she remembers from their old neighborhood. Iranian shopkeeper Farhad (Shaun Toub) is also afraid, due to a robbery. His daughter Dorri (Bahar Soomekh) tries to calm him by purchasing a gun he can keep in a drawer. In each case, security is a fantasy -- in the face of random violence (or maybe karmic-payback), one can only hope to survive.
Is it any good?
Opening with the aftermath of a car wreck under investigation, this Best Picture Oscar-winner is sprawling and ambitious, episodic and contrived. It is plainly about loss, but the loss of what isn't immediately obvious. Each interaction seems a kind of collision. For example, Ryan's ailing father makes him anxious, and so he takes it out on Cameron and Christine, whom he finds having sex in their car. He's cruel, but they can't fight back: he's a cop. When Thomas suggests Ryan has crossed a line, the older cop defends himself by blaming the work: "Wait till you've been on the job a few more years. You think you know who you are; you have no idea."
Some violent encounters are actual crashes, minor and major, lending the movie a sort of stop-and-start rhythm. This structure is exacerbated by the awkward multi-culti casting. CRASH takes a "one-from-every-food-group" approach to race representation (including a mostly unseen Asian pedestrian hit by a car and dragged beneath). The movie seems geared toward those viewers who were surprised by the Rodney King video, that is, people who don't regularly deal with cultural collisions. For others, its machinations will grind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's representations of racism, anger, and fearfulness, embodied and acted on by nearly every character. Families might also think about the ways that current urban and mass-mediated experiences lead to alienation and cultural divisions. Families might also discuss the several family situations, in particular, the five-year-old girl's trust in her caring father, and adult children trying to look after aging parents. How do family relationships affect your trust of others? How do some characters use aggression (verbal and physical) to establish their sense of identity?
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