Crash - Like watching an accident
| Do not confuse this film with David Cronenberg's 1996 Cannes winner. This film is no where near that complex.
Director Paul Haggis' new film Crash attempts to deal with the seriously grave issue of racism head on in an 'in your face' manner but unfortunately only manages to begin to scratch the surface of such a complicated phenomenon.
Haggis was car jacked a number of years back and says that this was the moment of inspiration for him. At this point he started to think about the life of the attacker and began the screenplay that would become Crash. He wanted to show, through his Altman-esque collection of interweaving stories, how fear plays such a dominant role in cultural and interpersonal relations. This is a noble goal but he never manages to get there due to the utter simplicity with which he approaches this intricate and thorny epidemic.
Simply put, Crash fails because it looks at things to simply. For example, no character is ever painted more than two-dimensionally. While no one is either good or bad, everyone only manages to be a straightforward combination of both. We see each character show off their unsympathetic qualities closely followed by a demonstration of their sympathetic ones. There is no depth beyond this unsophisticated approach and little analysis as to the choices people are making.
Crash is written like an after school special for adults. Characters shoot out racial lessons like, "These people think we're Arabs. When did Persian become Arab?" and "My father was from Puerto Rico and my mother is from Al Salvador, neither of those are Mexican." They say these lines with all the subtly and nuance of a crashing piano.
The plot works in much the same way. Haggis tries to show how desperate the situation has become and how futile the effort for change can be, but then wraps up most of the story lines very conveniently. There are a few tragedies before the movie ends but they are all tidy and predictable. Just enough hope to make us feels good on the way out of the film.
No character can exist on screen for more than a minute without some horrible racial epithet spewing from their mouths. People in Haggis' world wear their prejudices on their sleeves for all the world to see. Their flawed characters manage to display themselves within minutes of appearing but unfortunately, racism doesn't work this way in the real world. In reality it's buried under so many layers of excuses, rationalizations and socially accepted stereotypes that most people don't even understand they are hearing prejudice. In Crash, it hits you in the face and leads you to one of two horribly erroneous conclusions, "I am not like these horrible people," or "Racism isn't really the problem this movie pretends that it is." Either way, the movie fails horribly.
Also, the casting was a major mistake. The actors are, for the most part, out of their depth. Sandra Bullock, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon all act out of their range and never really convince because they are too busy trying to create the perfect "Oscar clip". Some of the rest of the cast is stronger including Don Cheadle, who normally isn't known for subtly but manages to keep the rage his character feels bubbling under the surface where it belongs. However, mostly the cast trip over how unbelievable their dialogue is and just aren't up to the task of saving themselves from it.
It really is too bad that Crash doesn't work as it presents a good idea. One of the main points of the movie is that people aren't racist because they are bad, but because they don't know how else to be. I guess I could then assume that the film makers of Crash aren't bad people, they just don't know how to make a good film.