Starring: Don Cheadle, Michael Pena, Jennifer Esposito, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard Director: Paul Haggis The film: Not the type of production you might expect from a man who cut his teeth on the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger. But the fact that Paul Haggis turned the short stories of F.X. Toole (Rope Burns) into the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby served notice that he has what it takes to turn a small idea into a big success. A real-life incident provided the foundations for Crash - Haggis was involved in a car-jacking in Los Angeles and found he couldn't get the incident out of his head. So he put pen to paper, determined to lift the lid on the issues of race and violence that pulse beneath the surface of the city. What he delivers is a richly layered ensemble piece in the style of Robert Altman (Nashville, The Player), with characters spiralling in and out of each other's lives and interacting when you least expect it. The subject matter meant it was given little in the way of a cinematic release, and that's a shame because it's one of the more provocative and engaging films to come out of the US for a long time. Don Cheadle - whose participation was vital to getting the green light for the film - plays a detective whose brother is wanted by the law. His partner (Jennifer Esposito) is Hispanic and their racial differences lead to tension. Among the bit players are: a district attorney (Brendan Fraser, right) whose wife (Sandra Bullock) trusts no one; an African-American TV producer (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton), who have a nasty run-in with a racist cop (Matt Dillon); a dedicated father (Michael Pena) whose heavily tattooed frame means no one wants anything to do with him; and two car thieves (Larenz Tate and Chris Bridges) who riff about the state of race relations. Haggis drops us in and out of the characters' lives, unravelling each and every preconception of the people they encounter - with often savage results. Most importantly, he manages all this without ever opting for the obvious. There are surprises at every turn. The extras: Little to offer apart from a behind-the-scenes special, but the commentary (with Haggis, Cheadle and co-screenwriter Bobby Moreseco) illuminates the inner workings of what must have been a tough project to get off the ground. The verdict: Not always easy to watch, but you'll be gripped from start to finish.