Yeah, the critics who didn’t like it are right in that it is manipulative and relies on staggering coincidences. And it’s true that this sort of thing has been done before, and possibly better, in two great films: Grand Canyon and Magnolia. And Do the Right Thing is an angrier film about the same theme. But none of that means this film can’t be great, too, and I didn’t think about any of that, except fleetingly, while I was watching. As they sing in Avenue Q, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” and boy is that the truth, and lord how much trouble that can get us into. It’s also true that none of us is completely good or bad, and all of us do stupid things from time to time. If we’re lucky, we may not pay the full price for that.
This film chronicles so many different ways we can misunderstand each other because of our prejudices that you’d think it would be hard to keep track of them … but I had no trouble at all. An example: An Iranian is insulted, called a raghead and Osama by a racist gunshop owner. Enraged and with his imperfect English, he thinks the Hispanic who is installing a new lock on his little family shop is trying to cheat him, when what the man is saying is the door needs replacing. The store is vandalized, sprayed with anti-Arab graffiti. The man is a Persian, not an Arab! His insurance won’t pay off because the Iranian didn’t have the door replaced when he was advised to. He decides to kill the locksmith, who has recently changed the locks on the home of a whitebread couple who have just been carjacked by a couple of young black men. The wife is so paranoid she gets in a shouting match with her husband, insisting the locks be changed again in the morning, because this little spic is going to come back with his “homies” and burglarize them. The man is not a banger, but a family man with a daughter he adores. The Iranian comes by … and I won’t tell you any more.
Even the people who look like good guys, like the Korean businessman, are not what they seem. The straight-arrow black cop turns out to be capable of letting an innocent man go to jail because of a threat to his worthless brother. The racist white cop, played by Matt Dillon, has his own story, and has heroism in him. None of us are entirely what we seem. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that we should all be a lot more careful what we assume about people … but we probably won’t.