Independent American movie directed by Paul Haggis dealing with racial prejudice in LA. Don Cheadle plays a detective who realizes from the start the problem with the City of Angels: "It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In LA, nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something." It's this fear, which in September 2005 has be exposed in New Orleans and the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast basin after hurricane Katrina. There are parts of America (and the world over) where the separate, segregated ethnic communities don't trust one another, aren't prepared to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It's not just white against black; it's Hispanic against Persian, white against Chinese, black against black. Hip-hop artist Ludacris plays a black guy who is prejudiced against himself, assuming all the worst that everyone else can think of him...and then fulfilling it in spite. Moments of violence are oddly comic, the bigot becomes a clown, morality is inverted. Challenged with a dilemma, the characters do the right thing, only for bad things then to happen as a result of that choice. We, the audience, see that had they taken the other option, they would have been saved.
The abundant handful of stories interweave in the manner of Robert Altman, colliding, crashing into each other in moments of crisis and coincidence too serendipitous to be realistically plausible; but Haggis isn't aiming for that sort of scientific realism; he tells a fable that shuffles closer to the truth of human relations. Too often we imbue the words "humane" and "humanitarian" with optimism. Isn't it just as "humane" to take the selfish option, the easy way out, leaving principle behind and your fellow human beings to suffer?
Haggis's vision is troubling and yet important. He doesn't offer any solution to our problems, but some of his characters learn that the way they behave towards others cannot go on. This time they have got off lightly, but there will always be another outlaw cop, safe from redress in an institutionally racist police force, another customer or tradesman trying to screw you over, another black guy who's going to mug you or steal your car. All this is "humane"; all of us are "human". And yet, inexplicably, when we to crash into one another, there is something reassuring about that human contact, which otherwise we might not have; there is in it a thing of beauty. In Louisiana, middle-class white families are meeting their black neighbours across the blown down garden fence for the first time. They might still go off inside to reload their shotguns, but isn't it better that at least they have realized the other person is human, is more like them than they think, is infinitely capable of breaking down those convenient and necessary stereotypes we burden upon each other?
Nugget: a challenging and important movie, which raises more problems than it solves; but then social cohesion is not the job of the artist, nor of the politician or the policeman; we are all responsible for it and we should all realize our interdependence, regardless of who we are, what we do and where we find ourselves.
P.S. I changed my mind about this film when I saw it on DVD.