Matt Dillon received his first Oscar nominations for portraying Sergeant John Ryan in Crash.
Crash really is a film that is always controlled by the writer and the director not the actors. The reason for this is that the film is set up almost entirely to show to sides of most of the character and both sides are of extremes. Most if not all the scenes in the film are suppose to tension filled due to race relations resulting in many actors yelling at the top of their lungs since most conversations in the film quickly devolve into yelling and name calling much faster than one would think. The character's really do not have arcs in the traditional sense they move very quickly to their different positions set by writer like a chess board.
The very nature of the film prevents any of the performances from being all that good sense they are not given the time for natural transitions. This is not to say all of the actors do not evolve to more than just a simple one dimensional characterizations set by the film, as some of the actors do far better with the limited material of the film than others. Dillon's performance certainly is one of the actors on the more positive side of the performances in the film since with his very limited screen time he does try his best to realize his character, he even attempts to try to make his character's sudden transition believable.
Dillon portrays a racist L.A.P.D police officer who has a sick father. He quickly harasses an upper class black couple even sexually molesting one of them. Dillon in his first scene plays it rather straight forward that he is merely doing what he is doing and has not real problems doing so. Dillon here actually does not really try to explain his actions and really presents John Ryan as a racist jerk. Dillon is effective here because he does play it as matter of fact reaction by Ryan, he does not turn into an obvious over the top racist, and rather portrays his character's cruelty rather realistically.
After this scene there is mainly a series of short scenes that show his frustrations over his father's illness. Dillon is fine enough here as he shows his frustrations basically amplify his racism and hatred. The only problem is there is not anything special about his portrayal of his relationship with his father. It is paper thin as written and Dillon is unfortunately held by back by it. Dillon certainly indicates his intent to make something truly meaningful out of his character's sadness of his father's problem, but really the script just does not allow him to explore enough.
The final action of Dillon's character is to save the woman he had previously molested. Dillon actually is terrific in this scene because firstly he did not make his character one dimensional earlier, making it believable that he would and could be a good man when he is called into action. As contrived of a scene as it is, and it is very contrived, Dillon is very effective in bringing it to life bringing the challenging emotions of the moment to life. He makes it believable all throughout the he would risk his life to save someone he had previously mistreated. After this scene though he does very little and his character really is not given sufficient closure and it is a shame. Dillon does his very best in the role realizing his character unfortunately the nature and weaknesses of the film always hold his performance back.