The writer and director of the film, Paul Haggis, has noble intentions. He is determined to make the sort of movie that makes us reconsider our own preconceived notions and partialities. To remind us that racism itself is most often the product of snowballed ignorance and unfiltered frustration. That there is good and bad in everyone, and that even the most rotten of a real-life villain is capable of good and that the most saintly of a being can make debilitating mistakes, too.
But he goes about it all wrong. His screenplay accidentally empathizes, or appears to empathize, with racists, forgiving their bigotry with scenes that have no motive besides convolutedly explaining that these people aren’t really that bad, just flawed. And when we focus on characters not comprehensively defined by their prejudices — and there aren’t many here — they’re placed in saccharine storylines, their “type” standing as a “ , with a heart of gold.”
The lack of subtlety is insufferable. None of these people ever act in the micro-aggressions that so frequently proliferate in the real world. They are racist and sexist in ways a 1960s advertising office might be, slurs dominant and outright hostility as present in the air as spritzed cologne in an Abercrombie & Fitch outlet. Haggis doesn’t care to take notice that racial inequality is something that is institutionalized and can be, and often is, an unspoken tension. He blames many of his characters’ enmity on trivial things, from one’s loneliness to the stresses of looking after an ill family member as reasoning for being so malicious to different racial groups. Haggis apologizes for much of the appalling behavior. I’m not wont to forgive.
The film spans two days in Los Angeles, circling around a number of racially and socially diverse characters and tying them together in their being confronted by rancor based on those two factors.
Most prominent are Sgt. John Ryan (Matt Dillon), a corrupt police officer with a dying father at home, Jean and Rick Cabot (Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser), a wealthy, prejudiced couple robbed at gunpoint by a couple carjackers (Ludacris, Larenz Tate), detectives and lovers Graham and Ria (Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito), easily enraged Persian storekeeper Farhad (Shaun Toub), and entertainment industry types Christine and Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton), whose marriage is rocked after they’re exploited following their being pulled over by the police one night.
We don’t like these people, expect Graham and maybe the Thayers. Ryan sexually abuses a woman on duty through an invasive pat down in one scene, and hurls racist insults at a medical representative (Loretta Devine) in another. Jean Cabot is an incessantly angry rich bitch who doesn’t care if her racial biases might hurt another, and her husband, the district attorney, is much more into his public image than he is in actually making a difference. The carjackers seem frustrated with the stereotypes thrust upon them and yet don’t try to outsmart them. The first moment we meet Ria, she’s openly mocking a woman for whom English is not the first language. Farhad is irrationally furious constantly, rancorous even when it’s unnecessary. The Thayers, while enraged in most of their starring scenes, at least have a reason to be so.
Haggis puts a “but …” at the end of the sequences wherein we’ve decided we’d rather not spend two hours in the company of such awful people. Ryan may be misogynistic and racist, but that’s only because it’s his only way of coping with the burden of taking care of his ailing father. (He’s later “redeemed” after coincidentally saving the woman he violated from a car crash.) Jean is just lonely, and her anger is her way of relieving that misery. One of the carjackers shows no remorse for any of his actions, but is absolved when he foils a human trafficking plot at the end of the film. Farhad is a human nightmare, going so far as attempting to murder a locksmith he thinks has wronged him. But he’s given a second chance when it’s revealed that his daughter replaced the bullets in his gun with blanks. He’s only so illogical all the time because he’s frustrated by his place in society.
Some of the arguments for these people do make sense, as the carjackers were likely, for instance, born into such a situation and have had an onerous time finding legitimate work. But I find it difficult to pardon most of these individuals. Being hateful, unless a true reversal of character is shown, is inexcusable. Haggis would like us to be sympathetic, but when the writing is only developed in thick, loud strokes, when the performances don’t contain an ounce of subtlety (save for Dillon and Newton, who bring in naturalistic flavoring), and when the number of cast members is likely an attempt to try to represent all people living in Los Angeles, it’s difficult to feel anything that isn’t unfiltered contempt.
Crash is not a bad movie, just an extremely misguided one. It has the ambition but not the depth. Despite being a notable critical and commercial success a decade ago, controversially winning the Academy Award for Best Picture as opposed to the well-received Brokeback Mountain (2005), it has increasingly become revered as one of the worst Oscar movies ever released. Because a sense of actual perceptiveness seems so far out of Haggis’ reach, agreeing with that sentiment isn’t so hard. C-
1 Hr., 34 Mins.
Crash July 29, 2017
n controversial Oscar winner Crash (2005), not a character serves any other purpose besides acting as a mouthpiece for a well-meaning, but deeply unsubtle and totally wrongheaded, filmmaker. An ensemble film carrying the aspiration to encapsulate social and racial tensions in modern-day Los Angeles, Crash is peppered by characters not much more than their prejudices and their vague reasons, perhaps excuses, as to why they bring out those prejudices in the first place. Characters who aren’t thoroughly loathsome seem to exist solely to prove that a given stereotype within our culture is an erroneous one.