"Crash" is a complex movie with a simple premise: set in Los Angeles it follows eight main characters (and many, many more supporting) from all walks of life and races whose lives intersect at some point during one 24 hour period. These people are all different yet all alienated, to the point of breaking, so much so that when they come together, things explode.
The complexity of the film comes from the encounters between characters and their tangled lives and worlds. Paul Haggis' screenplay is so intricate and delicately written I couldn't begin to try to summarize the actual plot line (which destines this article to be kind of vague), but everyone meets everyone else at some point in the film (and there are a whole lot of characters).
Suffice to say, these meetings are variably intense, casual, fleeting, and dangerous, but they all effect the participants in profound and provocative ways, causing lives to find enlightenment or swerve violently, and watching it all unfold is mesmerizing because Haggis (Oscar Nominated writer of Million Dollar Baby) made the film meaty with messy characters and topics and stories to chew and hurtle along with.
The all-encompassing theme of the film is racism, and it is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every single character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycle but also suffers because of it. Where racism makes for an interesting enough subject for an already provoking and fairly experimental film (I was surprised to see this get wide release), it's only the catalyst for a deeper, resounding story of redemption and the universality of our lonely situation which the movie becomes during its second hour (what you could call Act II).
It switches from a somewhat depressing contemplative amalgamation of moments about racism in everyday life and how destructive it is, to a throbbing, intense web of choices and consequences — life and death, vivifying or soul killing — and the chance at redemption.
Following their actions in Act I, everyone meets a fork in the road or is given a second chance of some sort. Some take it, some don't, but regardless, by the end of the movie everyone has changed. This is what gives the movie wings during its second hour, makes it interesting, keeps you guessing and on knife's-edge. It also gives the characters depth and soul and shows that despite perceived and upheld differences, when it comes down to it we aren't different (which we see in a shattering scene between the characters played by Ryan Philippe and Larenz Tate after Tate notices that he and Philippe have the same St. Christopher statue), in fact we desperately need each other.