May 17, 2005 > Crash
Press interview with Paul Haggis and Ryan Phillippe
"Crash," a new release from Lions Gate Films, is a snapshot of the lives of various people living in L.A. It's sort of a "day in the life" of approach, with some very interesting twists. The characters are faced with experiences and choices of an extremely earth shattering nature that makes it impossible for them to take the normal thread of their lives back up. Director Paul Haggis and actor Ryan Phillippe joined members of the local press at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco to talk about the film and all its implications.
Haggis, of "Million Dollar Baby" fame, has a vision for how his latest film will impact audiences.
"I want the audience to be able to judge people, in the beginning," Haggis explained. "I see you, and you, and you, and I make decisions right away, who you are, where you came from. We all do. I'd like to make them all really comfortable, just like in "Million Dollar Baby". So that by the time I deliver that sucker punch, they just are not looking for it."
"It's a fable, but it's based on real things, and some are things that happened to me", Haggis said of "Crash". Real, indeed. Haggis and his wife were carjacked over 10 years ago in Hollywood while coming out of a video store. Two gunmen accosted them at gunpoint, and the thieves made off with their vehicle. Although unhurt, Haggis was unable to forget the experience, although not in the way that might be expected.
Instead of merely being terrified to rent movies anymore, Haggis found himself pondering the lives of his two attackers, and what drove their motivation to crime. Eventually, his curiosity led to writing a script about the carjacking, and the story of "Crash" evolved from that center experience.
"It took me 10 years to get around to writing it," said Haggis. "But these characters wouldn't leave me alone, and once I finally started writing it, it just flew out of me."
"With all these characters, it's easy to know who they are," Phillippe said. "And then you see that life isn't like that. We all love to judge others, and we hate to be judged. We're all guilty of that. And as involved as we think we are, when we're put under pressure, the oddest things happen. The villain becomes the hero, and visa versa. And then we all understand, by our actions, who we truly are."
"We didn't pull any punches," insisted Haggis. "This talks about who we are, all of us. That's very important to me."
The plot is really a sack full of subplots, with the lives of the characters colliding unexpectedly in places. The audience is given pieces of each character's story, so that it crisscrosses its way through several stories. The format is similar to that of a soap opera, but with brains.
So what happens next to these people? Are Haggis and Phillippe and company really going to leave us all hanging?
"You can decide, to some degree, on your own, what happens to the characters next," said Phillippe. Far too often in movies, the music drums up and you're supposed to get teary eyed and feel a certain way about the character. But here, it's a mix. There's shades of gray, that's what this movie's about. None of us are 100 percent good or bad, but we all have both within us."
"'Crash' demands a little more of the audience," concurred Haggis.
This is the kind of movie that I want to be known for, the kind that pushes some buttons, and opens some eyes," said Phillippe.