Theatrical ensemble dramas are hard to pull off. On TV they are a staple -- but on the big screen it's hard to overcome the forest-through-the-trees problem; that is, how to tell a complete story with only a limited time to introduce and involve meaningful characters.
In his recent film "Crash," which comes to DVD Tuesday, writer-director Paul Haggis not only deals with a large and very talented cast, but he manages to interweave multiple moving stories that deal with race, family, loneliness and the strong influence that strangers have on one another Cast members -- which include Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Tony Danza, Keith David, Shaun Toub and Michael Pena -- give balanced, touching performances.
Bullock, as a woman with fear and anger-management problems, plays brilliantly against type, as Cheadle turns in another nuanced but powerful performance, and Matt Dillon makes human a power-abusing, racist LAPD officer. And these are only a few of the standout turns.
Mark Isham's score is another element that grabs viewer attention. As the film switches among its multiple characters, the soft, haunting music is always present, helping to interconnect the numerous plots. Yet despite its use through many vignettes, it always precisely captures the mood necessary for any given scene.
A commentary track with Haggis and producer Bobby Moresco and a behind-the- scenes featurette happily are included as extra features. Both give good insight into a film that many people are going to be interested in learning more about. The commentary is especially informative, as it shows the creative team behind the movie was almost as amazed with the quality of the product as critics and audiences. If any negative is to be found it is perhaps that the commentary is weighed down by too much back-patting between Cheadle and Haggis, though it is hard to begrudge them their pride in this project.
Lions Gate; DVD $28.98; rated R; available Tuesday
New on DVD:
Buffalo Bill: Seasons 1 & 2 (Lions Gate Home Video: two-disc DVD $29.98; not rated; available Tuesday). Dabney Coleman starred in this 1983-84 series as caustic, egotistical Bill Bittinger, host of a talk show in Buffalo. Bill believed he belonged in TV's big time but couldn't quite make the leap. So he spent most of his time berating his producer (Max Wright) and baiting his cohost, Jo Jo White (Joanna Cassidy). Geena Davis also starred. The Emmy-nominated show won a Golden Globe.
Lost: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment: seven-disc DVD $59.99; not rated; available Tuesday) All 24 episodes of the hit series come to DVD. Extras include commentaries with executive producers J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Burk and Jack Bender, and actors Terry O'Quinn, Dominic Monaghan, Maggie Grace and Ian Somerhalder, 13 deleted scenes, bloopers from the set and more.