Effortlessly, on levels beneath the level you can see and hear, corruption bleeds into the fabric of a city so paranoid about race that skin colour represents a clear and present danger.

Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. This is his first walking talking writer/director gig and it's a triumph of subtlety over sensation, an ensemble affair, in which contrasting storylines cross and double cross, occasionally missing, sometimes colliding. The film devours cynicism, like a vulture at a graveyard, and leaves irony to prosper unprotected.

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It is hard to do the right thing when the rules of engagement are written afresh daily. These characters show weakness and strength in equal measure. There is no grey in the palette of survival, only the colours of dying.

A racist cop becomes a caring son. An honest detective carries the weight of his brother's crimes. A black television star is humiliated after a mugging. A politician desperately seeks a photo op to win back the ethnic vote, while his wife is consumed by irrational rage. A Mexican locksmith witnesses a miracle, caused by an Iranian immigrant's inability to understand the language. God is not good, my friend, because God is dead, and only those at the Devil's gate can see this to be true.

The city is Los Angeles. Tension explodes. The cops are out of control. They have the power to stop and search, even kill and fabricate evidence. There are no guarantees, no defence against mistaken identity, no safety in the streets.

Haggis weaves his tapestry with infinite skill, aided by exquisite performances. The script slices through the soft belly of expectation, denying the audience any comfort in sentimentality. What he is saying is that in a city where no one touches, the impact of an accident is the only reality. A crash is a crash is a crash and the heart experiences aftershocks that reverberate through generations of injustice.

The film is so alive, it shakes. Of all the stories, rushing to collide, only that involving Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser, as the politician and his angry wife, runs off the road. The others drive faster.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2005
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Slice of Los Angeles paranoia, incorporating fear, anger, racial tension and a miracle.
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Anton Bitel ****1/2
Themroc ****1/2

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