Last night I shuffled over to Into Video and returned with Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 2, Disc 1, and Crash (the 2005 version, not the crazy Cronenberg-Spader-sex-with-corpses version). I watched Curb first, figuring I'd coat my stomach with some delightful ridiculousness before the depressing punch of Crash. A wise move, as it turned out.
Crash was brilliant, and if there's ever been a more roundly damning portrait of race in America, I can't imagine what it might be. One of the extremely impressive things about the movie is that almost no one--with the possible exception of the locksmith and Sandra Bullock's Latina housekeeper--gets away without doing or saying at least something prejudiced, bigoted, or otherwise assholic. Almost all of the characters show an ugly side at some point.
Much of Crash is relentlessly depressing, but it's pulled back from the brink of being as much of a downer as, say, Amores Perros by a few moments of levity and by a small handful of vaguely heartening scenes. Time and again, things just don't turn out as you think they will, for better or (often) worse, and each of the characters confounds expectations by becoming either more human or less over the course of the film.
It's not giving too much away to say that Anthony, the character played by Ludacris, takes an unexpected turn from the moment we're introduced to him to the moment we see him riding on a bus toward the end of the film. Oddly, for all of the painfully sad or brutal or bleak events throughout the story, the only time I cried was when Anthony pulled his van--stolen under complex and fairly nasty conditions--to a corner in LA's Chinatown and opened the back door. I won't give away what happens or why it induced tears, both because doing so would spoil some of the richness of the intertwining story lines and because describing the moment in words doesn't do it justice.
Suffice it to say that the filmmakers don't let Anthony escape as a fully changed character--he's still a confused, hypocritical, messed-up kid--but they do let him feel a pinprick of something like mercy. It's a stunning, heartwrenching, almost hopeful moment.