#231 Crash

(2004, Paul Haggis)

“I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

Racism is bad. Like, really, really bad. Did you know that if you’re a racist, you’re basically Hitler? Hitler was a racist, and he even killed people because he was a racist. I don’t think you’re aware of just how bad racism is, and for that you need to be given a stern talking to and be made to sit down and watch Crash.

Crash is about an ensemble cast of characters dealing with racism and cultural divides and misunderstandings that arise from those two really, really bad things that should be broken down at the earliest opportunity. It’s set during a single day in LA, and culminates around car crashes.

Don Cheadle is a detective estranged from his mother. Sandra Bullock is the shallow wife of the district attorney, and incredibly suspicious of non-white people after being mugged by Ludacris, who is paranoid about being a victim of racism to the point where he has become incredibly racist himself against white people. Matt Dillon is an incredibly racist police officer who recently abused his power on Terrence Howard, who is a film director trying to come to terms with some of the poor racial attitudes of the people around him. Plus some other things happen. There’s a lot going on.

Crash is a bit of a mixed bag, and not just because of its multicultural cast. Crash is a movie that is both easy to criticise but also incredibly engaging at the same time, and it’s hard to know where to take my review with this.

Let’s start with the negatives, shall we? There are issues with characterisation and plot in Crash, notable in the fact that the attempts to tell so many stories in a short space of time leaves pretty much everyone underdeveloped to the point where a one-line character description is their entire personality.

As a result, some of the things said and done in the movie have a tendency to feel a little unrealistic or exaggerated, and at times veered right off into full-on stereotype. Some stereotypes are merely movie clichés – the shallow trophy wife, the racist LAPD officer, the mean-looking Mexican man who actually has a heart of gold and is the Best Dad Ever – while some fly right in the face of the anti-racism message behind the movie.

When a prominent Persian character is a volatile paranoiac and the Chinese characters are bizarre caricatures that keep getting their L’s and R’s mixed up constantly, it’s kind of hypocritical of the movie to say that we shouldn’t paint people of different races in broad strokes. What’s worse is that while depth is attempted with various characters, albeit somewhat clumsily and predictably, the Chinese characters remain stuck in their stereotype for the whole movie, and that’s a concern.

The plot is also a tad predictable. Vapid trophy wife overcomes her prejudices through suffering. Ludacris recognises the hypocrisy of his actions when things get “too real”. The racist cop is reformed when he saves the life of a black woman. Scary Persian man calms down when he witnesses what he views to be an act of God. And so on. Nothing really breaks the mould, and it’s all wrapped up in a shiny Hollywood sentimentality with all the sincerity of a Hallmark card.

That said, I actually enjoyed Crash. While the plots are simple and the characters limited, this helps the movie in trying to tie everything together. Because we have a sense of where each individual plot is going to go, the surprises and twists of the movie come in the ways these stories weave in and out of each other. Every story, no matter how loosely, connects together by the end of the movie, and they do so in ways that make sense and actually add to the experience.

As such, the overall plot is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sneaky callbacks and foreshadowing you don’t expect. There’s a sense that small details matter more than what’s on the surface, which would actually make a lot of sense considering the film’s anti-racism message. And as such, I can actually forgive the predictable nature of the individual pieces.

Also, the acting is fantastic. I don’t think I can name a single bad performance in this movie. Every character may be written rather simplistically, but the actors really bring a ton of subtleties to their performances that make them feel real. Even Ludacris, who I was expecting to be terrible (musicians shouldn’t act and all that, with notable exceptions), brought a lot to his character.

While I recognise a lot of Crash’s issues, I honestly can’t say it’s a bad movie. It makes its flaws work and presents a tidy package that has the potential to grip the viewer, and as such, I have to say I really liked the film as a whole.

Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe & Larenz Tate
Written by Adam Mesbah
Produced by Paul Haggis, Mark R. Harris, Bobby Moresco, Don Cheadle, Bob Yari & Cathy Schulman
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography by J. Michael Muro
Edited by Hughes Winborne

Favourite Scene: Don Cheadle showing some respect for his mother is incredibly moving, especially when she seemingly doesn’t show any gratitude towards him.
Scene That Bugged Me: I was initially bugged by the scene where a little girl is shot. The way it was presented initially seemed incredibly illogical, and explanations came a little too late.

Watch it if: You want to feel bad about racism
Avoid it if: You don’t like your characters painted in broad strokes

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Posted on November 6, 2013, in 2000s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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