Paul Haggis' essay in film form (on DVD Sept. 6) has been criticized for its didactic analysis of the unexamined racism of Americans and for the shamelessly Dickensian sentimentality and improbable coincidences that cause its interlocking characters' melodramatic stories to collide repeatedly during 24 hours in L.A. I grant all that, yet still argue that it's a better-crafted whole than the similarly structured Short Cuts and Magnolia, even if its ratiocination lacks their lightning streaks of genius. Central star Don Cheadle outacts any A-list actor in Hollywood as a cop teasing out the mystery of a corpse he finds on a high Mulholland Drive–like hill. We'd best start calling the rapper Ludacris by his proper name, Chris Bridges, because his hilarious yet utterly serious high-consciousness gangster role beats even Cheadle's. (Larenz Tate plays his quieter carjacking best friend.) Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, and Matt Dillon perfectly enact a grisly scene of sexual harassment by cop. Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock have never been better as the loveless couple attacked by the carjackers. This space is too small to mention the entire ensemble, all showing Hollywood the way to make better movies—aim for the brain and heart, not the teenagers' groins. Practically every role cries out for Oscar attention.
The DVD commentary is best when Cheadle and Haggis ease off on the rote praise and get specific about filmmaking (e.g., how each scene's color balance was individually tinted for effect). However unlikely, five things in the film have roots in real-life events: the carjacking, Howard's assault by multiple gun-wielding cops, Dillon's character's racist rap about his underclass dad, the corpse-dump location (after Haggis chose it, a cop adviser said they had found bodies at that spot), and the L.A. snowfall in the opening scene. "If it can snow in L.A.," says Haggis, "Maybe there's hope for us all."
THERE'S ALSO HOPE in the sunny Fever Pitch and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, both out Sept. 13. Also look for the documentaries Rock School and Expo: Magic of the White City (about the 1893 World's Fair), Todd Solondz's icky Palindromes, and a reissue of Rumble Fish (with Coppola commentary). Sissy Spacek and director Michael Apted provide commentary on a new edition of Coal Miner's Daughter, and there's a four-disc set of Ben-Hur. From TV, look for season four of Smallville, a fourth volume of the great SCTV, and old episodes of The Dick Cavett Show that feature Ray Charles. Pick of the week: the Japanese Nobody Knows.