When I told a friend of mine that we were going to be talking about Crash this week, the race one, not the fetish sex one, my friend said that it didn’t belong in this Hunt. She said that everyone agrees it shouldn’t have won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, and that because of that false victory it’s become an easy target, but that in reality it’s a decent, touching movie. First of all, just as a reminder to everyone, the way the Hunt works is any movie can be nominated, iif it’s not the worst movie then I will say as much and we will move forward. But no movie is above being nominated. Second of all, Crash is not a decent and touching movie. In fact, it’s such a horrible mess of inflammatory racism and reductive clichés that while it’s not the WMOAT in the way that, say, Baby Geniuses is the WMOAT, it’s the WMOAT in the way that Birth of a Nation is the WMOAT. This movie should be sentenced to 100 million hours of community service.
Crash centers around a half-dozen interconnected stories about people living in Los Angeles. There’s Don Cheadle as a detective sleeping with his white partner. There’s Terrence Howard as a sitcom director who’s having trouble with his light-skinned wife after they’re harassed by a racist cop, played by Matt Dillon. There’s Matt Dillon’s partner, Ryan Phillipe, who asks for a transfer because of Dillon’s obvious racism, but then does something crazy and racist on his own. Ludacris plays a car-jacker who only robs white people and espouses a unique brand of modern race theory, like some kind of street smart Cornel West. And then there’s Brendan Fraser as the Los Angeles District Attorney, whose racist and clinically depressed wife, Sandra Bullock, is basically Tea Leoni in Spanglish. Also there’s a Hispanic locksmith and a Persian convenience store owner. All of them run all over the city being racist and non-racist to each other, pointing guns in each other’s faces and breaking down stereotypes only to reinforce other stereotypes. It’s like an Afterschool Special for horrible people. It kind of reminds me of Death Wish, except in Death Wish, every time Charles Bronson left the house he would be immediately attacked by armed gang members, whereas in this movie, as soon as anyone leaves the house they are immediately attacked by improbable clashes of racial tensions.
One of the main problems with the movie is that it was written by Paul Haggis, who, in addition to being a terrible writer, is for all intents and purposes is the whitest man on Earth. He wrote LA Law and …thirtysomething. I barely even feel comfortable writing about this movie as a white person, so I can only imagine what kind of moral diarrhea Paul Haggis must be feeling. Of course, he’s not feeling any moral diarrhea because Paul Haggis is the kind of person, apparently, who tells his black friends why they should be offended by hip hop’s portrayal of African American culture, and refers to himself as the Oppressor. I’m not saying that white people can’t recognize racism, or that a white person could never write thoughtfully and meaningfully about the problems facing our country. I’m just saying this white person (Haggis) can’t recognize racism, and this white person could never write thoughtfully and meaningfully about the problems facing our country.
Case in point, as the movie opens and we’re being introduced to all of the characters, Ludacris is having a spirited debate with Larenz Tate about how they were treated poorly in a restaurant because of the color of their skin, and then he points to Sandra Bullock walking by and how she bristled at them because they were black, even though they’re dressed like USC students and look non-threatening. “If anyone should be scared around here, it’s us. We’re the only two black people surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people and the trigger happy LAPD. So you tell me, why aren’t we scared?” There’s a momentary pause, and then Larenz Tate says “Because we have guns?” And then they proceed to CAR JACK SANDRA BULLOCK. So just to get this straight, two young black men are complaining about racism and then flip the paradigm on its head by being violent criminals? Whoops, hold on. My brain just crashed, I have to restart it. And every scene is like this, multi-layered racism in combinations that don’t even exist.
At a certain point, the film just collapses under the weight of its own “meaningfulness.” For example, the angry Persian store owner goes over to the Hispanic locksmith’s house to shoot him because the locksmith told him to get his door fixed but he was racist against the locksmith and thought he was trying to cheat him out of money and then his store got broken into and the insurance company told him he was negligent in fixing his door, but instead of shooting the Hispanic locksmith he shoots the locksmith’s five-year-old daughter, but it turns out that the gun was full of blanks because apparently the Persian’s daughter knew that her dad could not be trusted with a gun and she put blanks in the gun. OK, except that after the “miracle” of the little girl surviving a shot to the head, everyone just goes their separate ways? The police are not called? And then Persian man believes that the little girl is his protective angel and that everything is going to be OK, which would be a totally beautiful life lesson to get this man’s life on track, except that I personally take issue with any life lesson that can only be learned BY SHOOTING LITTLE GIRLS IN THE HEAD.
Characters become three dimensional when they act in contradiction to the audience’s pre-conceived notions about them. So, when a criminal commits a small act of kindness, or when a good guy commits a small act of cruelty, they become human. The problem is that Crash‘s characters are all one-dimensional, so that when they decide not to be racist for a second, or when Ryan Phillipe decides to shoot Larenz Tate for no reason whatsoever, the best they can hope to become is two-dimensional. Not to mention the fact that every actor is completely typecast, which as a practice has a long history of racial bias. So Don Cheadle plays the quiet, conflicted cop, while Ludacris is a gangbanger. Matt Dillon plays a working class stiff just trying to get through the day, while Brendan Fraser plays a shiny beaurocrat. I guess what I’m trying to say is this movie should have won the Academy Award for FAIL.