Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA/Germany, 2004. Bob Yari Productions, DEJ Productions, Blackfriars Bridge Films, Harris Company, ApolloProScreen Filmproduktion, Bull’s Eye Entertainment, Incognito Pictures. Story by Paul Haggis, Screenplay by Paul Haggis, Cinematography by Produced by Don Cheadle, Paul Haggis, Mark R. Harris, Robert Moresco, Cathy Schulman, Bob Yari. Music by Mark Isham. Production Design by Laurence Bennett. Costume Design by Linda M. Bass. Film Editing by Hughes Winborne. Academy Awards 2004. American Film Institute 2005. Golden Globe Awards 2004. Independent Spirit Awards 2005. Las Vegas Film Critics 2005. National Board of Review Awards 2005. New York Film Critics Awards 2005. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2005. Toronto International Film Festival 2004. Washington Film Critics Awards 2005.
Culture clash in Los Angeles is the subject of this grim, multi-plotted drama, though deep down inside it’s also about the current climate of American politics: these characters make war on each other in an effort to feel safer in their own lives. Tragic events and terrible conflicts result in the ensemble cast seeking out members of communities outside their own for vengeance, but what makes Paul Haggis’ screenplay so interesting is that he doesn’t allow for any of them to be total victims. Everyone in this story lives in a hell they’ve created for themselves (and the ones who don’t have also made contributions to that effect). There’s a D.A. (Brendan Fraser, in a bit of Hollywood science-fiction casting) and his emotionally frustrated wife (Sandra Bullock in fine dramatic form) who have their car stolen from them at gunpoint and are completely unnerved by it, a cop (Don Cheadle, who rises above the entire cast) trying to investigate a murder while dealing with his dysfunctional family, a Persian store owner (Shaun Toub) unable to find any reasonable communication with anyone around him, a television director (Terrence Howard) who keeps allowing people to walk all over him, and a racist cop (Matt Dillon) trying to help his ailing father. Haggis has written an intelligent screenplay with some fascinating, complex personalities, but his direction is sometimes too heavy-handed, especially the moments of grace and resolution which are more awkward and overbearing than the dynamite-subtle dramatic scenes. It’s so great to see a movie dealing with the reality of racism in America, rather than the usual Hollywood version of reality, but I’d still rather see Spike Lee’s more emotionally charged exposes of life in the streets (even the ones that are erratically written) than something that feels this cold and calculated. As for movies about sad people in Los Angeles, this one has nothing on Short Cuts or Playing By Heart and is definitely no Magnolia.