Racism is bad...and...yeah
Racism is bad...and...yeah
Sometimes the Academy Awards can be a very hard organization to agree with. On most occasions, there is one candidate that everyone bets will win the award hands down, only to be upstaged by some wild card nominee. Titanic beat L.A. Confidential, Dances with Wolves was chosen over Goodfellas, and Sean Penn, in Milk, beat Mickey Rourke from The Wrestler. But even though I may not agree with these decisions, I can at least see why they were chosen as the winners. I'm sure even the Gladiator naysayers can understand why the Academy chose it. But Crash is a different story altogether. I mean, I guess I can see why it won, but the only real concrete reason I can think of is that they didn't want a movie about either gay cowboys or an Olympic massacre to win and spark controversy. Ironically, that philosophy seemed to turn against itself in the process.
Plot Synopsis: Over the course of 36 hours, the lives of over a dozen people with various ethnic backgrounds will intersect and racial tensions will be brought into the foreground. The Los Angeles district attorney and his wife are shaken when two black men steal their car. A Persian family is blaming a Hispanic locksmith when he tries to fix their store lock, but the store is robbed later that night. When a film director and his wife are pulled over because the cop is prejudiced against black people, the cop proceeds to molest the wife, setting off a heated argument between the couple as to what should have been done in the situation. These are just a few of the intertwining stories and set of events portrayed in Crash, as these people's lives all eventually come crashing together in a melting pot of racism and violence.
Crash's ambition is certainly evident within the structure of its script, almost as if it tried to be the be-all and end-all of films about racism, but there's too much ambition to appreciate these efforts to the fullest. The film is just so heavy handed and obvious as a whole that it's overall message is diluted in the process. Racism is rampant everywhere, we all know that, but to have it seeping from almost every frame of film is absurd. The first half hour is the worst, as we just see racism, after racism, after racism, and it doesn't seem to end. Writer-director Paul Haggis, who wrote the much more subtle Million Dollar Baby and did some fine tuning on the Bond movies Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, reaches for the stars here and ends up barely scratching the atmosphere. He's actually a better director here than a writer, considering that this is his first time as a director. He's particularly adept at creating evocative, emotional, and sometimes beautiful imagery and scenes that work when the script isn't pointing too many fingers.
As an ensemble piece, Crash could've lost a few of it's characters without impacting the story too much, but each of the actors put in good work with the best of them sometimes reaching greatness. Michael Pena, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Terence Howard are the best of the lot, and Dillon was definitely deserving of his Oscar nomination as a racist cop. Pena's scene with his daughter who is hiding under her bed is particularly heartwarming and easily the best scene in the movie, while Howard's reserved emotion and fear when Dillon pulls him over and starts molesting his wife is hard to watch. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is surprisingly strong too, with the exception of one frustrating scene where he and Larenz Tate commit an act that they had just criticized as stereotypical. The only cast member who doesn't succeed as well is Sandra Bullock, who doesn't have one scene where she doesn't express some form of racism and is the least interesting character within the ensemble.
Once Crash reaches it's final hour, it finally starts to pull back on the brakes and examine its topics with more restraint. Crash had the potential to be a thoughtful, hard hitting look on racism, and although some scenes really do come forward with raw emotion, the movie as a whole seems to represent its emotions and views in simplistic terms. Thankfully, the great cast mostly elevates the material from contrived ham handedness to tolerable mediocrity.