By far the most engrossing scene is when Michael Peña’s young daughter gets mistakenly “shot” by Shaun Toub. But that sequence means next to nothing without the foundation of the characters, which is set in a previous moment.
Early in the film, shortly after Bullock dismisses Peña as a “tattooed gangbanger”, we get our first glimpse into the film’s underlying spirit. Crash was ingenious in the way it exposed racial discrimination and proved most of our assumptions involving race to be dead wrong. On the surface, it’s hard not to assume Peña’s locksmith character as a thugged-out, gun-totting gangster. But once we are invited into his home, we are exposed for our narrow-mindedness.
Thankfully, Haggis fought and lobbied for this extended take.
Peña asks his daughter (the wondrous Ashlyn Sanchez) if she still thinks about the bullet that came through her window in the previous home they lived in. She says she does, and in an effort to comfort her, Peña tells an elaborate fantasy story of how he was supposed to give her an invisible, impenetrable cloak on her birthday. A cloak that cannot be breached by knives or bullets. The premise sounds silly, but my God if these two don’t pull it off.
Young Sanchez is a revelation. Her youthful charm matches Peña’s playful wisdom line-for-line; she conducts herself as well as any of the A-listers in the film. But it’s Peña (who should’ve received an Oscar nomination for his criminally underrated performance) that steals us.
There is no screaming, yelling, or racial slurs thrown around like most of the other scenes in the film. Instead, the doors are opened for the dramatic climax of the film. Later, when Peña clutches his daughter, silently screaming into the afternoon sky, devastated by the life that was just taken from him, we are moved beyond words with one sentence. “It’s okay,” Sanchez whispers into Peña’s ear, “I’ll protect you.”