Released:  2004

Cast:  Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate

Oscar Wins:  Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco), Best Film Editing (Hughes Winborne)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Matt Dillon), Best Director (Paul Haggis), Best Original Song (“In the Deep” — Michael Becker, Kathleen York)

SUMMARY:  Police Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner, Ria (Jennifer Esposito), are involved in a car wreck on their way to a crime scene.  While Ria begins shouting racial insults at the other driver (who responds in kind), Waters walks to the crime scene, which is the body of a dead teenager.  The film then flashes back to the day before, where a Persian store owner, Farhad, is trying to buy a gun with the assistance of his daughter, Dorri; Farhad’s store has been robbed several times recently, and he intends to prevent this from happening again.  However, when the gun store owner hears Farhad and Dorri speaking in Persian, he starts mocking them and calling Farhad “Osama”.  Eventually, the store owner has Farhad taken out by security, but Dorri demands either the money or the gun; she is given the gun, and when told she gets a free box of ammunition, demands the “ones in the red box”.  Elsewhere, two young black men, Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate) are walking down the street when they encounter the white district attorney, Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock).  Jean, in particular, reacts somewhat fearfully to the two men, which angers Anthony.  He and Peter then carjack the couple at gunpoint.  When the Cabots get home, they call a locksmith.  The man that comes is Hispanic and has tattoos on his neck; Jean tells Rick that she wants the locks changed again tomorrow, as she believes that the locksmith, Daniel Ruiz (Michael Pena) will give their keys to his gang-member friends.  The end of this conversation is loud enough for Daniel to hear before he leaves (after putting both copies of the keys on the kitchen counter).  Waters and Ria are called to the scene of a shooting, in which a white undercover officer shot a black undercover officer (neither knew of the other’s true identity).  Another police officer, John Ryan (Matt Dillon), calls an HMO for his father and speaks to a woman named Shaniqua Johnson.  Ryan feels that his father has been misdiagnosed, and wants something done for the pain, but his plan does not cover it.  When he is told this, Ryan begins using racial slurs.  After hanging up, he returns to his patrol car and his partner, Tom Hansen (Ryan Phillippe).  The two see a black car that resembles the one carjacked earlier (the Cabots’ car), and start to follow it; even when they realize it is not the right car, Ryan decides to pull it over after seeing the passenger perform oral sex on the driver.  The couple turns out to be television director Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton); while Christine has had a few drinks, Cameron is sober and cooperative.  Ryan insists on pulling both from the car, and when Christine continues to argue with him, he molests her under the guise of a pat-down.  Rather than confront Ryan, Cameron backs down and apologizes; the couple is let go with a warning.  Christine is furious that Cameron did nothing to help her, but he insists that he did the right thing by not fighting the police.  Daniel returns home from work to find his young daughter Lara hiding under the bed after hearing a gunshot.  To make her feel better, Daniel tells her about the invisible cloak he wears, which keeps him safe from harm; he then pretends to tie this cloak around Lara, giving it to her.  Anthony and Peter are still in the carjacked vehicle when they accidentally hit and run over a Korean man in an alley.  Anthony wants to leave him, but Peter insists that they pull him out; they eventually do retrieve the man and leave him in the parking lot of the hospital.  When they try to take the car to a chop shop, they are told that the blood on the car makes in un-buyable.  In the morning, Hansen requests a new partner, not being comfortable with Ryan’s overt racism and behavior.  To his surprise, his black superior, Lt. Dixon (Keith David), suggests that he make the requests for other reasons, as an investigation could cost both men their jobs.  Ryan goes to the HMO office to talk to Shaniqua.  He apologizes for the previous evening, and explains his concerns.  Shaniqua sympathizes, but tells him that the plan does not offer anything else; Ryan then resorts to racial insults, which leads to him being escorted out by security.  Daniel is called to Farhad’s shop to fix the lock on the back door; he replaces the lock, but tells Farhad that the real trouble is the door, which needs to be replaced.  However, Farhad believes that Daniel is just trying to cheat him and begins yelling at him.  Daniel eventually leaves without being paid.

The next day, Farhad comes to work and finds that the store has been ransacked.  An insurance agent visits, but tells Farhad that because Daniel told him about the bad door, the company is considering the break-in a case of negligence and will not pay for the damage.  The store is Farhad’s only method of supporting himself and his wife, and he finds Daniel’s name and drives to his house.  Waters goes to his mother’s house to find that she has relapsed on drugs and has almost no food in the house.  Her only concern is his absent younger brother:  she keeps requesting that Waters go find him.  At work, Waters learns that the black undercover officer’s car had $3000 hidden in the spare tire.  He suspects that the officer was visibly “coked out”, and that the white officer acted accordingly.  However, in a meeting with the D.A.’s office, it is suggested that he suppress this evidence and suspicion:  the white officer had already killed two other black men under suspicious circumstances, and the D.A. intends to use him to make a statement about equality in the department.  Jean Cabot is talking to a friend on the phone when she sees that the dishwasher is unloaded, and begins berating her Hispanic housekeeper.  Ryan is assigned a new partner, and the two quickly come upon the scene of an accident, in which a woman is trapped in an upside-down car.  Another car is on fire, and the flipped car is leaking gas.  Ryan begins to help the trapped woman, only to find that it is Christine Thayer, the woman he molested two days earlier.  When she recognizes him, Christine starts to fight him off, but he eventually calms her and starts to get her out.  The leaking gasoline catches fire, and his partner pulls Ryan out of the car — but he crawls back in, grabbing Christine and pulling her out just before the car explodes.  Elsewhere, Anthony and Peter have their eyes on another car.  This time, it happens to be driven by a black man — Cameron Thayer — which temporarily halts them.  Cameron uses the opportunity to vent his frustration, jumping out and pummeling Anthony.  Anthony tells Peter to shoot Cameron, but he doesn’t; as the cops arrive, Peter flees but both Anthony and Cameron jump into the car.  They are stopped at a dead end and approached by officers, one of whom is Hansen.  When Cameron gets out of the car he is visibly agitated (and secretly armed), telling the officers to go ahead and shoot if they want.  Hansen is able to call off the officers by claiming to be friends with Cameron (whom he remembers), and also talks Cameron down, finally letting him go with a warning.  Cameron and the hidden Anthony leave; when Cameron drops Anthony off, he tells him that he (Cameron) is embarrassed by Anthony.  Farhad waits outside Daniel’s house until the man returns home, then confronts him in the driveway with his gun drawn.  When Lara sees this, she runs outside and leaps into her father’s arms (wanting to protect him, as she now has the cloak) just as Farhad fires.  After several seconds of shock, everybody realizes that Lara is not hurt:  the gun didn’t fire.  At home, Jean is talking to a friend on the phone when she slips and falls down her stairs.  After trying (and failing) to contact her friends, she finally calls her housekeeper, who immediately comes to care for her.  That evening, Jean apologizes and hugs the housekeeper, saying that she is her only true friend.  Peter is hitchhiking home when he is picked up by Hansen.  When he realizes that the two have a lot in common, Peter starts to laugh; Hansen thinks that Peter is laughing at him, and demands that he get out of the car.  Peter reaches into his pocket to pull out a statue of Saint Christopher (which Hansen has on his dash), but Hansen believes it is a gun, and uses his own to kill Peter.  He then dumps the body on the side of the road and torches his own car.  The film then returns to the beginning, when Waters and Ria arrive at the scene, and Waters realizes that the dead teenager is his missing brother.  He and his mother go to the morgue, where Dorri is the coroner.  Waters promises to find the guilty party, but his mother informs him that he is the culprit, having become too busy for his own family.  Dorri goes to her father’s store and hears about the incident:  Farhad believes that Lara was a guardian angel, keeping him from doing something terrible.  Unbeknownst to him, the ammunition that Dorri had selected at the beginning of the film were blanks.  Anthony finds the car of the Korean man he hit earlier, with the keys still in the door, so he steals it.  At the chop shop, he is shocked to find that it contains a number of Cambodian immigrants; a scene of the Korean man in the hospital (where he is recovering) suggests human trafficking.  The chop shop owner offers to buy the people and sell them himself, but Anthony refuses.  He takes the van to Chinatown and releases the immigrants, giving one of them $40 and instructions to buy everyone some food.  As he leaves, a car is rear-ended nearby; Shaniqua gets out of the hit car and begins yelling racial slurs at the other driver.

MY TAKE:  Sorry for the exceedingly long summary, but the various intertwining storylines kind of make it necessary.  It’s not actually that long a movie, but there’s a lot that goes on.  Apparently I am now going through a social/racial tension phase of movies, like my previous drug movie phase.  In light of recent events, these movies are particularly thought-provoking, and perhaps even more difficult to watch.  This one, in particular, is hard to watch because it really doesn’t show too much of the good side of humanity — and when it does, something turns around and slaps you in the face, like the ending.  I thought we were going to end on a semi-happy note, with Anthony doing something really good, when Shaniqua gets out and starts yelling racial insults at somebody.  And she’s the one who wouldn’t help Ryan because he was doing that to her.  Talk about hypocritical.  Ryan actually turned out to be one of the more favorable characters, which surprised me.  I intensely disliked him at the beginning, based on what he did to Christine, which I considered an abuse of power.  However, when he saw the car accident he immediately ran toward it, and placed himself in grave danger in order to save her.  He manages to get her to trust him again, and when he’s pulled out by his partner he crawls back in to grab Christine before the car explodes.  That’s heroism, and I think that’s what we all want our cops to be like.  He’s also legitimately concerned for his father’s health, and takes care of the man, but his attempts to get better medical care get out of hand.  Some of the characters seem to improve over the course of the movie, while others kind of devolve:  Jean Cabot, Ryan, the Thayers, Anthony and Farhad all seem to become (somewhat) better people, while Hansen and Shaniqua don’t live up to their previously-developed “good guy” role.  Others, like Waters, Rick Cabot, Daniel and Dorri don’t seem to change at all, but most of them were fairly good characters to start with.  Obviously, there are a lot of characters in this movie, and I thought it would be hard to keep them straight.  However, as most of them are played by famous people, it’s a lot easier to remember who’s who, or at least their storyline.  You’re not trying to worry about learning a face at the same time as the story is developing.  It’s a powerful movie, but it kind of depressed and saddened me, due to the way most of the characters treat other people.  As shown, these remarks don’t always mean that the person is terrible; Anthony calls the Cambodians a number of derogatory names as he releases them.  However, I would hope that in the 21st century, people would have gotten past such blatant stereotypes, especially in a city as diverse as Los Angeles.  Even if they still believe the stereotypes, people ought to know better than to voice them aloud.  It’s just a total lack of respect for other humans, and it’s disheartening.

RATING:  Powerful but uncomfortable.




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