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<i>Crash</i> Tells Dark Tale of Author's Real-Life Car-Jacking

A series of apparently random incidents over the course of two days in Los Angeles intertwine in a provocative dramatic film that exposes the darker side of human nature. Alan Silverman has a look at Crash.

A smartly-dressed young white couple walks along a brightly-lit promenade. The woman glances aside for a moment, then takes the man's arm. It seems innocent enough ... but not to the young black man who caught her eye with that glance.

Misunderstanding or slur? Fear or ignorance? Whatever the source, an apparently harmless gesture or comment can lead to ominous results as lives intersect in Crash, co-written and directed by Paul Haggis, Oscar-nominated this year for Million Dollar Baby. Haggis says he wrote the story to deal with his own emotions after he and his wife were car-jacked.

"We wrote the movie about ourselves ... about our fears, our hopes and about people we know," he explains. "We didn't write the film about 'those bad people over there doing bad things.' We wrote about good people in situations where they find themselves trapped or uncomfortable. No one thinks of themselves as a villain."

The disparate characters include a world-weary police detective played by Don Cheadle, who won acclaim for his portrayal of a heroic lifesaver in last year's Hotel Rwanda.

"It's easy when you see a movie that's sort of detached from your own experience; it's easier to look at that and say 'oh, that was a terrible thing that happened over there to those people," Cheadle says. " I wasn't involved in that, but I can sympathize and feel awful for their plight.' This one says 'no, it's you; you did it; you're one of them.' I thinks sometimes people say 'I'm not so comfortable dealing with that and looking in the mirror and seeing me up there."

Jennifer Esposito also plays a police detective - the Cheadle character's partner, both on the force and in bed.

"I thought it was really honest. We say we don't say or feel those things, sometimes ... but we're lying. I really do believe that. I think it is really human," she says.

"In the characters in this film, there is an aspect to anyone's personality. Whether they choose to deny it or whether they are uncomfortable to realize it or not, it's the truth," adds Ryan Phillipe, who plays a young idealist who faces the choice of how to - or whether to - translate his beliefs into action.

"I think that a central theme to this movie is the duality of man: the good and bad that resides within all of us [and] the instinct that we have that causes us to make decisions, for better or worse, in a given time or under a given circumstance," he says. " What that speaks to, ultimately, is the humanity and basic similarities that we all share: regardless of where we are from, what color we are, what money we have, our needs and desires are all the same and our ability to make choices, for better or worse, is the same."

Larenz Tate, who plays an all-too-easily misguided young man in Crash, believes discussions about it will continue long after the lights go up.

"This is a very unpredictable film. That's why I think the title really fits - Crash - because it's accidental. A lot of things we see and do are accidental and unpredictable," he says.

The ensemble cast of Crash features Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Terence Howard, Thandie Newton and rap artist Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.