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Saturday, July 20

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Crash
In an early sequence in Crash, two black men (Larenz Tate and rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) are walking down a well-lit, crime-free street in Los Angeles having a very frank debate about race. Tate's character, Peter, tends to give white people the benefit of the doubt. Bridges' Anthony sees racism everywhere, even in the black waitress that has just served them. Anthony believes the waitress gave them poor service because she thinks black people don't tip well; his response to her poor service was not to give her any tip. It's a funny and tragic scene, and it's one that typifies this well-intentioned and largely well-executed work from Oscar-nominated writer (for Million Dollar Baby) Paul Haggis, who also directs. By the way, the conversation between the two men ends when they realize that although many of the white people on the sidewalk might be scared of them, it is in fact they who should be scared since they are clearly outnumbered. So why don't they fear for their lives? Because they're both carrying guns.

Crash clearly exists comfortably in a mold forged by Robert Altman's Short Cuts, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon. It's an ensemble piece with about a half-dozen storylines that constantly intersect. But unlike those three films, Crash's unifying theme is not some vague concept of the human condition; the influence that pulls these characters together or rips them apart is racial tension. I'm guessing 75 percent of you who are reading this review are running for the hills (or at least onto the next review), but stick with me. Crash deals with race unblinkingly, all sides and shades of the color line. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern are all parts of this possibly unsolvable puzzle. And there isn't a single member of this cast that isn't up to the challenge of looking like a complete bastard.

If you thought you had Sandra Bullock figured out (I know I did), wait until you see her jaw-dropping rampage (as a rich wife to Brendan Fraser) after the pair are carjacked one evening. She doesn't trust the tattooed Hispanic locksmith brought in to change the locks in their home, and she demands her husband have the locks changed again in the morning. She would not have won Ms. Congeniality with a mouth like she has here. To me, the most interesting dynamic in Crash is between a black Hollywood director (Terrence Howard) and his beautiful light-skinned wife (Thandie Newton), who are pulled over in their luxury SUV by a racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his cautious rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe). I've seen this scene before in films, but here, the tension is thick as Dillon basically molests Newton in a search for weapons, while fuming Howard stands by, helpless. Dillon's character probably has the most dimensions of any in Crash, as we discover when he is made to feel very small and powerless by a woman (Loretta Devine) at his father's insurance company.

Don Cheadle chalks up another stellar performance here as a police detective with a junkie for a mother and career criminal as a younger brother. To protect his career, he essentially ignores his family at great cost. Cheadle's character is one of the few to use race to his advantage, but the screenplay still finds ways to make him suffer. The plots in Crash loop and twist around as characters are, sometimes literally, crashing into each other. What's remarkable about the film is that it makes its points without being preachy or obvious. I promise, you won't feel like you've been condemned to two hours of sensitivity training. You will laugh as often as you will want to cry, which is as often as you will want to pound your head into the wall with frustration that people act this way. No one comes out of Crash smelling like a rose, but it's difficult to outright despise anyone either. Characters occupy both sides of good and bad. Crash is honest, relevant and meaningful.

3-Iron
3-Iron is the latest from South Korea's Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring; The Isle). As in Bad Guy, the lead character (beautifully played by Jah Hee) never speaks, forcing us to actually pay attention to every single movement he makes. We see him canvassing well-to-do neighborhoods, breaking into certain homes and…cleaning them. Sure, he eats a little food, takes a bath, takes a nap, uses a few toiletries, but he always finds ways to repay the home owners, who usually have no idea he's ever been there. He also uses his digital camera to photograph himself with an item in the home that is most unique (a.k.a. evidence he's been there).

During one of his excursions, he fails to realize there is actually a woman (Lee Seung-yeon) in the house watching him go through his routine. She finally reveals herself, but rather than turn him in, this clearly abused woman (a married former model) allows him to stay. Eventually the woman's evil husband returns for a new round of abuse, but the silent non-thief stops the beating with the husband's own golf club and balls. The man and model leave the house and together continue his pattern of breaking into homes.

3-Iron is a fascinating study of human behavior. We have no idea what led this clearly clever and talented man to choose this lifestyle. And while we don't really know the model's history either, it doesn't take a genius to see why she would opt to go with a man who, at the very least, won't hurt her regularly. The film is deceptively simple, but we're almost forced to put ourselves in these characters' heads in an attempt to understand them a little better. They seem like good people, and our inclination is to figure them out, which the director makes difficult but not impossible. It may take you a while to get used to the pacing of this movie, but once you do, the payoff is worth the effort. The film is now playing at the Landmark Century Center Theatre.

Don't Move
Maybe because of her occasional appearances in tabloid rags and terrible American movies, Penélope Cruz hasn't really been given credit as an actress. But those who have seen her body of Spanish-language work know there's something more than just famous boyfriends and a pretty smile. Check out Open Your Eyes (or its remake Vanilla Sky), The Girl of Your Dreams, Twice Upon a Yesterday, or her work with Pedro Almodovar, Live Flesh and All About My Mother. I also thought she was perfectly cast as a drug kingpin's girlfriend opposite Johnny Depp in Blow. She may not have the best judgment when it comes to selecting her American films, but the woman can act, perhaps never more evident than in the Italian tour-de-force Don't Move.

Directed by and co-staring Italian mega-star Sergio Castellitto (Mostly Martha, My Mother's Smile), Don't Move is an emotional juggernaut of a film that uses sex as a major influencing factor on its characters rather than simply as a distraction or pleasantry. Castellitto plays Timoteo, a surgeon who just happens to be at the hospital working when his 15-year-old daughter is brought in after a nasty motorbike accident. Her helmet was not fastened to her head and her injuries appear to be terminal. As other doctors work to save his daughter, a beyond-distressed Timoteo looks out a window onto the rainy streets below and sees a lone woman sitting in a chair in the rain. He can't see her face, but the sight triggers a flood of memories (most of the film is told in flashbacks) centering on his lengthy affair with a poverty-stricken woman named Italia (Cruz, looking downright unattractive with an enlarged nose, overbite, gapped teeth and terrible makeup).

They first meet when his car breaks down in Italia's part of town, and he essentially forces himself on her. But rather than respond with rage, Italia simply accepts this incident, and we assume she's had encounters like this with men before. But something about this homely but passionate woman keeps Timoteo coming back to see her. Their sex is aggressive, sometimes ugly, but it leads to something more intimate and loving. Make no mistake, Don't Move is a full-on tragedy. Timoteo is still very much in love with his beautiful wife (Claudia Gerini), whose pregnancy comes at the exact time he's considering ending the marriage to be with Italia.

Don't Move does not ask us to feel sorry for this adulterer torn between two lovers, but you almost can't help it. Castellitto gives such a complex performance you want to hug him almost as often as you want to punch him in the throat for being such a cad. The truth is the film manages to generate a tremendous amount of drama without providing any characters for us to dislike entirely. Italia is a pathetic creature, who is shocked to be feeling love toward anyone. Timoteo's wife is trusting to a fault. And every time we think we're capable of despising Timoteo for his actions (like leaving his wife in the hospital just hours after giving birth to his only child), we are brought back to the present, seeing him agonizing over his daughter's condition. Don't Move features three outstanding performances, two of which are ambitious enough to be called "brave." There are key films that you can point to when someone wonders if an actor is really worth the praise being heaped on him or her. This movie is the one I'd point to for detractors of Penélope Cruz. Don't Move is a great film because Cruz is so good in it. It opens today at the Landmark Century Center Theatre.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Unless your heart is a giant ice cube, there is no possible way this startling documentary about history's biggest corporate crime won't make your blood boil. Directed by Alex Gibney and based on the best-selling book by Fortune writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Enron presents a fairly even-handed look at the events that ruined the lives of thousands of Enron employees, whose 401K accounts were effectively made worthless after the company collapsed under its own powers of deception.

One of the strongest aspects of this film is not only walking us through the history of the company and its scandals, but also putting all of these events in perspective. Enron leader Ken Lay was a friend to the Bush family; don't think for a minute that doesn't come into play on more than one occasion. The truth was many of the top execs at Enron were the smartest guys playing the game of energy trading, but it was their skills with moving money, cooking the books, creative accounting and finding new ways to lie to Wall Street (and their employees) that will absolutely floor you. To say they had a reckless disregard for good business practices doesn't even begin to describe the level of deceit they practiced daily. But you already know this. And the filmmakers don't simply point the cameras at experts and former Enron big shots; they also illustrate the real victims of these crimes. The series of interviews with a line operator whose 401K's value soared to hundreds of thousands of dollars—and then dropped to less than $2,000—is heartbreaking.

The other aspect of the film that is perhaps its greatest accomplishment is dissecting the mess Enron made of the California energy situation, which eventually led to the ousting of Gov. Grey Davis and the election of Arnold Schwartzenegger. Was that the intention? The filmmakers wisely don't connect those dots definitively, but you can't help but wonder. After the many politically minded, pre-election documentaries that flooded the marketplace last year, it's actually refreshing to see one that stirs up the same levels of emotion without having an audience feel they have to pick sides. The bad guys are actually easier to spot. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is precision filmmaking that makes sense of the senseless and almost completely shatters our faith in humanity. Bring a date!

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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