Picks and Pans Review: Crash

updated 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Here comes a direct order: See Crash. Movies don't come better acted, as lucidly written or, most importantly, more capable of grabbing a viewer emotionally and intellectually than this exceptional ensemble drama about racial and ethnic relations in urban America today.

In the same way that 2000's Traffic looked at the world of drugs, Crash relies on overlapping storylines and intersecting lives to weave a complex tapestry depicting the consequences of city dwellers making snap assumptions about each other based on accent or skin color. In the movie, over the course of 36 hours, a dozen diverse Los Angeles residents come into conflict over a carjacking, a traffic arrest, a break-in and various other incidents.

Certain scenes in Crash—one involving an angry Persian shopkeeper confronting a Latino locksmith (Michael Peña); another with a snarling white cop (Dillon) pulling over a black couple (Howard and Newton); and a third with the same cop trying to save the black woman-are so fraught with dramatic tension they'll leave you gasping. Few films can make you care this much. Major credit belongs to the polished cast, with Cheadle, playing a conscientious police detective, earning special mention for capably carrying the world's woes on his shoulders. Crash is the first movie directed by Paul Haggis, whose previous screenwriting credits include Million Dollar Baby. I can't wait for his next one. (R)

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