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DVD Review: Crash

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I currently find myself thoroughly disappointed at the state of movies today. I was on the phone with a friend of mine, and a commercial came on for some big budget flick that looked horrible, and I said “Wow. Because that’s not going to suck.” She responded, “Well, what movies don’t nowadays?” And that seems to be how most people feel about movies at the current time, which could explain the recent decline in movie theater attendance and box office receipts.

But when I thought about it, I realized that there actually were decent movies out. I loved Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica, Shopgirl, Good Night, and Good Luck, In Her Shoes, The Squid and the Whale, Match Point, North Country, and many others that may not have been box office phenomena, but were very well received small films that many people (including my friend) don’t have access to (or didn’t at the time of their theatrical release).

I tried to explain to her that the good movie still existed — just no longer in the big budget, special effects, A-List actor, big-shot director, car chases and gun shooting, murder and violence, sex and drugs kind of film. The good movies existed in simple but brilliant screenplays that, at heart, were just about people.

This is where I get to Crash. Since I didn’t have access to the film in the theaters when it was first released, I saw it for the first time on a small screen. I found out that the movie really does live up to all the buzz surrounding it. Even on my cheap, blurred, small computer monitor, Crash grabbed me and shook me. It shook me hard.

Yes, all of the characters may not have been completely fleshed out and three-dimensional; yes, much of the film may have been manipulative and slightly contrived; and yes, the portrayals of the events and how they pan out in the film are not all necessarily realistic — but my question is “Who cares?” It was such a brilliantly done film from the first frame to the very last. The completely original, risky, and thought provoking Oscar-winning screenplay (I was shocked white, male writers — Paul Haggis and and Robert Moresco — captured so truthfully), the riveting, emotional, touching, and even at times, funny, acting from an excellent ensemble, the pitch perfect choice of music, the inspired directing by newcomer Paul Haggis (screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby), and even the beautiful Academy Award winning editing all came together to make what was, in my opinion, one of the best movies of all time.

Now I know many people disagree with me about the quality of this movie, which may lead me to think twice about how much I loved it, but frankly, I don’t care. And personally, a few people that I know that have criticized the movie and called it overrated are people who I have observed to be prejudiced themselves, therefore concluding that the movie probably made them uncomfortable (which, by the way, was kind of the point). But before everyone jumps all over me and burns me at the stake, I want to make sure everyone understands that I am in no way saying that if you didn’t like this movie, it is because you are a racist. I’m simply saying for many people that didn’t, I’m sure the fact that it hit too close to home might have been partly to blame.

But the great thing about it is that Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco knew that this movie would make people uncomfortable (not just people who are clearly racist, but everyone — as the movie’s point is that no one can fully escape prejudice, even against their own) and that’s partly what their screenplay sets out to do.[ADBLOCKHERE]

I am reminded of D.W. Griffith when I think of Crash. D.W. Griffith was a pioneer filmmaker who made an early film called The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The Birth of a Nation was extremely popular. The film glorified slavery and provided historical justification for segregation and disenfranchisement of African American people. There’s a scene where the Ku Klux Klan gallops in to save the heroine, and a scene where a white woman is forced to consider jumping off the edge of a cliff to escape a black man who is “trying to rape her.”

The film’s controversy lies in its premise that the Ku Klux Klan arose to restore order to the post-war South, as it was “endangered” by “uncontrollable” African American denizens and their allies, abolitionists, mulattos, and carpetbagging Republican politicians from the North. Though popular and lucrative, the film drew significant protest upon its release. Premieres of the film were widely protested by the newly founded NAACP. Griffith was surprised by the harsh criticism. He didn’t know that there were people that felt so differently from the socio-political climate of his own environment.

He later made another film that was released that next year called Intolerance. One of the unusual characteristics of the film is that none of the characters have names. Griffith wished them to be emblematic of human types. Thus, the central female character in the modern story is called The Dear One. Her young husband is called The Boy, and the leader of the local mafia is called The Musketeer of the Slums.

All of the stories, spanning several hundreds of years and cultures, are held together by themes of intolerance, man’s inhumanity to man, hypocrisy, bigotry, religious hatred, persecution, discrimination and injustice achieved in all eras by entrenched political, social and religious systems. The film, at the time, was the most expensive film ever made. And it completely and utterly bombed at the box-office, as its target audience (middle class Americans) hated it. It made them completely uncomfortable and hit entirely too close to home. Yet now, we realize how incredibly great the film was, and many consider it to be one of the best films in history and the greatest film of the silent era.

This is all to say what, exactly? Well, two things: one, Crash, like Intolerance, is yet another example of people simply disliking a film because of controversial themes that people don’t want to deal with and thereby disregarding the quality of the film itself; and two, as Paul Haggis tried to explain in his Oscar acceptance speech, art isn’t necessarily a Shakespearian mirror held up to nature, but also a Brechtian hammer to reshape society. And if these so-called “cliche” characters and lines that Haggis and Moresco used as puppets to create this incredible interweaving story of love, corruption, indifference, regret, pain, prejudice, and hypocrisy are not entirely realistic, that’s okay. Art is not something you can truly define. It is not something you can wrap up and put into a box. True art is created when thinking outside of the box. And that’s what makes this screenplay and this film so unforgettable for me.

Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon (who, by the way, should’ve beaten George Clooney), Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Michael Pena (who should’ve been nominated for an Oscar but probably wasn’t because of how little screen time he had, plus he’s a new face), Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Esposito, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges all gave wonderful performances and all deliver what I call “un-winning” acting. They’re not trying to be right. They’re just trying to be real. And that is what I love about the way these characters were created. There is a point in time for every major character in this movie when you like them and a point in time where you dislike them, even if only for the shortest amount of time. There is no clear protagonist or antagonist — they’re all just people. Flawed, real people. And that is what allows Crash to make you feel. Whatever it makes each individual person feel — it just makes you feel.

And it does all of this on a budget of 6.5 million dollars. Wow. Maybe the major Hollywood studios can take a lesson from a movie like Crash, that is bark and bang, heart and soul, simply by just having a damn good story to tell.

I will say that this movie is one of the most personal movies I’ve ever seen, and due to the truthful nature of the writing and the acting, creates some of the most intense moments I have ever seen on the screen (namely one with Michael Pena and his character’s daughter near the end of the movie, which had my heart racing and my eyes wet — I won’t give it away).

The power of Crash is that it can make you think differently about perception and assumptions. And whether you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, male, or female, this movie can make you realize how making those assumptions about people can cloud your vision as to what is really there in front of you. But of course, that is only if you want to see it.

Many people were extremely pissed when Crash caused possibly the biggest Best Picture upset in Oscar history a few weeks ago. I, personally, was completely shocked — but was in no way upset, as I had always thought that Crash deserved it more than Brokeback Mountain (which was also a very good film — just not as good as Crash). The thing that I don’t understand, is that people are arguing that the Academy is not as liberal as they claim to be — voting for Crash instead of the gay-themed Brokeback, but Crash is just as socially relevant — in fact, probably more so considering that Brokeback is simply a love story that doesn’t try in any way to be preachy or change people’s thinking, whereas Crash embraces is socio-political nature, grabbing the issue of racism and prejudice by its horns.

All I have to say, to anyone who took part in this film is simply, “Bravo.” Bravo for making a movie that makes me want to go to the movies again. Thank you for making a movie that makes me re-evaluate who I am and what I believe and what perceptions I have of the world and the people in it. And bravo for being socially and culturally relevant without being biased or unfair, but most imporantly, bravo for making me believe in the power of film all over again.

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About Chris Evans

  • Olivia

    Wow. Just…wow.

  • wayne young

    At last! Someone post oscar night not slagging this film. I was lucky enough to see this at the cinema last summer (ironically because “the Island” had sold out) and it was an absolute gem.

    One of the scenes at the end (i will try not to spoil) where the life of the young girl is in jepordy actually produced genuine gasps in the audiance and i haven’t seen that sort of reaction in a cinema for a long time. Any film capable of deriving that sort of reaction from a sizable audiance is worthy of respect in my opinion.

    Unfortunatly i haven’t seen brokeback (though i do plan to) so i can’t comment on the oscar debate though its best screen play was very well deserved

  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    I believe Crash made some people feel uncomforable. They did not like the way the film tried to make them feel guilty. This is why so many people didn’t like it as much. Being manipulated into feeling guilty backfired.

    I thought it was one of the best films that I had seen in years and a worthy Oscar best picture winner.

  • Diane Kristine

    Great article. Crash is a flawed film, but I don’t care – it grabbed me emotionally and intellectually and that’s all I want from a film. While I think Brokeback Mountain probably deserved the Best Picture Oscar more, it’s a matter of taste. The Oscars aren’t about flawlessness, they’re about … well, who the hell knows what they’re about. I’m tired of the backlash against Crash, as if it fought dirty, as if the Oscar should be given that kind of political importance. There’s room in the world for both of those great films.

  • Janice

    Excellent review. Chris, I definitely agree with you about this movie deserving best picture, and thank you for writing such a comprehensive and well thought out article praising this great film. Bravo to YOU, I say.

  • Peter

    Paul Haggis is a white guy from Canada. I’m a white guy from Canada. All this movie was to me was one of those educational films you see in junior high to make you think twice about being racist, except all the swearing and nudity would keep the junior highs from showing it.

    I like Paul Haggis and I liked this film, but I liked it for what it was; Degrassi Junior High (All Grown Up) The Movie. It’s just one big “Don’t Be Racist Because…” movie made by white apologists for white apologists and that’s why it won. Me and Haggis come from completely different parts of Canada. He’s from a small white town in Ontario. I’m from the most multicultural part of Toronto there is. In Scarborough I was almost always the one white kid in each of my classes. I have discussed the “groundbreaking” issues presented in this movie to death for the past 10 years. Nothing in this movie made me think because I had already thought about it and talked about it and come to terms with it. Let’s not even get into the fact that he in the end made no white in the film anything but some kind of oppressor, further counting on the guilty white vote. From the only white guy in a history class during the topic of slavery sitting in the middle of the room with 25 pair of eyes staring at me like I did something (even though during the years of slavery I knew my family were enslaved themselves in Greece by Muslims) I know the other side of the story that Haggis seemed to forget about.

    But that’s not the issue with me. I just wanted to highlight his stand and what he was going for. Haggis created and ends he wanted each character to come to and threw the means out the window. Why would Dillon risk his own life to save a woman he just about molested the night before? Why would Tate act so hostile when asked what was in his pocket by a guy that was very kind to pick him up? How did Sandra Bullock know that because she got scared that triggered Bridges and Tate to attack her racism? The questions are endless. Haggis doesn’t properly build the characters and instead relies on cheap emotional tricks to get naive movie watchers to gasp in amazement. The Academy knew what this was and they were lucky enough to get a year with movies that were all better than Crash but none that were blockbusters and they felt no pressure to vote for any of them (except Brokeback but hat was only their for political reasons too. If the movie ended with each cowboy finding Jesus and realizing being gay is wrong then it would have been slammed by everyone, even if the movie was just as good). Crash wouldn’t have won in the same year as Forrest Gump or Titanic, but no one is going to remember Capote or Good Night and Good Luck. So why not just push our whole Hollywood is progressive crap? The whole night was geared around how groundbreaking Hollywood was with minorities when compared the rest of America, from Clooney’s mention of Hattie McDaniel winning an Oscar while the rest of blacks had to use separate fountains (Clooney forgot to bring up that McDaniel was the first black to even be a guest at the Oscars and couldn’t go to her own LA premiere because of racism but that would hurt the point he was trying to make), to the various montages they plagued us with. Now I’m all for minority rights and standing up to racism but Hollywood is just as racist as the rest of the country, they just like to pretend otherwise and that was the real point Clooney made to me when he didn’t bring up all the facts. What I’m against is giving an inferior movie the coveted award based on politics. I don’t even think it should have been nominated. I also find it quite funny that the same night they praise their liberal stance on racism and give Crash the film of the year they also have the epitome of black stereotypes dancing around and winning the award for best original song. See, it’s a win win for apologist whites everywhere; they can feel proud about fighting racism and snicker at thugged out pimps at the same time. : Heh Heh, look at the goofy black people. They aren’t even wearing suits”. Kudos Hollywood, you made a lot of people think you care and in turn made a lot more think Crash is better than it was. Time will expose you on both fronts.

  • http://www.thebmrant.com Matt

    worst

    Best

    Picture

    EVER.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “worst Best Picture EVER.”

    You sounded like someone with no sense of film history because while it’s certainly not the best, it’s a far cry from the worst.

    Have you seen A Beautiful Mind, The Greatest Show On Earth, Cavalcade, Driving Miss Daisy, Broadway Melody, An American in Paris or GiGi…?

  • Scott Butki

    We reached similar conclusions. You might want to

    check out my review
    of the movie.I too think it’s heavy handed and manipulative at times but still is a great story and an excellent movie.

    I’m showing the movie Sunday at my church and leading them in a discussion of it.

  • Scott Butki

    Driving Miss Daily is definitely worse. And think about other best picture nominees like Gladiator. Yuck

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    El Bicho — I’m with you on A Beautiful Mind and The Greatest Show On Earth, although the latter film is modestly entertaining.

    Can’t speak for Cavalcade or Broadway Melody — have you seen them? Has anyone, outside of Robert Osbourne?

    I have no particular axe to grind against Driving Miss Daisy, although I can’t muster up much of a defense for it either.

    As for An American in Paris — do you really think that was a bad choice for Best Picture in 1951? That’s one of the two or three greatest American musicals ever made, and as such something of a landmark in American movies. The competition was strong in 1951; other nominees were two bona fide classics, A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as a couple that have been all but forgotten: Decision Before Dawn — which I’ve never even heard of — and Quo Vadis?

    Of the top three, I can’t say it’s an easy call. I don’t think any of the three would be a bad choice. They are all great films.

    I’ve never seen Gigi all the way through, but I’ve never read a sustained attack on it either.

    My own choice for Worst Best Picture in history? Easy. American Beauty.

  • Scott Butki

    Oh I’m with you on A.B. being unworthy of its awards.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Glad to hear it, Scott. I thought it was a horribly smug and hateful movie.

    P.S. on the above: there’s a certain relevance to bringing up An American in Paris because it’s win, like that of Crash, was a major upset.

    Filmsite indicates that the other two strong contenders may have lost because they split the vote between them.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “Can’t speak for Cavalcade or Broadway Melody — have you seen them? Has anyone, outside of Robert Osbourne?”

    Yes, RW. The wife and I made a point of seeing every Best Picture winner. The AFI 100 is a much better list to complete.

    Here’s what Driving Miss Daisy competed against and all were more worthy: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot. I’d also mention Do The Right Thing which wasn’t even nominated.

    We disagree on the best two or three musicals. Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and I could keep going. I found “AiP” boring and hard to sit through because of its weak story.

    I can’t offer a susatined attack on Gigi because I have blocked it from my memory, so unless I lose a bet or am kidnapped, I will never see it again. Other than Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven For Little Girls”, it is an excruciating romance to sit through about two people you don’t care about.

    While I enjoyed American Beauty, I thought The Insider and The Sixth Sense were better films

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    El Bicho — I disagree strongly on several points.

    First of all, Dead Poets Society is sappy, Do the Right Thing is brainless and the worst of the lot, Field of Dreams, is just a flaming pile of crap. I could barely finish it I hated it so much. The voice-over gave me a migraine and the ending made me want to bash in the TV screen. It never connected with it and to this day I cannot understand the way it reduces otherwise sensible men to mush.

    Born on the Fourth of July is quite powerful; My Left Foot is better. Driving Miss Daisy isn’t a great movie, but it’s in their league. It’s hard to feel anyone was robbed — except Bruce Beresford, who didn’t even get nominated for direction.

    Singin’ in the Rain is great, and I like West Side Story, too. I run from the room with my ears plugged when The Sound of Music arrives. Thumbs up on Beauty and the Beast, but it’s nowhere near the best.

    No accounting for taste in these things, I guess, but I never found An American in Paris boring so much as I did fantastic — I love movies about starving artists who sleep in silk pajamas and wear sweaters that would cost me two months salary. The story mattered less to me than the dance sequences; the same goes for Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, which I actually rank higher.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Do The Right Thing is brainless? whoa.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    It is! It’s nothing but a two-hour screaming match! What did that movie even say? Spike Lee just seemed totally confused making it.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    it seemed (and still does seem)like a good depiction of race relations. and the word ‘confused’ actually makes perfect sense. some characters were likeable, others not. some were strident, others not so much.

  • http://breathoffreshink.com Chris Evans

    How you figure “Do The Right Thing” is brainless I truly do not understand.

    Even just the beginning sequence with the dancing says volumes.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Of course, Dead Poet’s Society is sappy. We’re talking about the Oscar. Don’t you realize how many films you knock out of the race if that was a consideration?

    Do The Right Things talked about race relations and the two paths that could be travelled in resolving it. King’s way or X’s. Just because you were confused by it doesn’t mean that’s a reflection on the work

    If you didn’t like Field, you obviously have some father issues you need to examine.

    Driving Miss Daisy isn’t in those other films’ league. It’s a bore. Why shoud Beresford feel cheated? The film is bland to look at. It’s staged no different than the play it was adapted from. And it’s not like he did anything to get those performances out of Tandy and Freeman. The people who were robbed were the people that spent time and money watching it.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Ah, so you think because the Oscars endorse sappiness, you have to endorse it, too? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    The confusion regarding Do The Right Thing was all on Lee’s part. All he seemed to come up with after two hours were that there are a lot of different opinions. Whoo-hoo. Don’t stop the presses.

    “If you didn’t like Field, you obviously have some father issues you need to examine.” Actually you have some sappiness issues you need to examine. I don’t like gushing, insincere, shallow Hollywood sentimentality. Other people bathe in it and feel refreshed.

    The only thing I never really liked about Driving Miss Daisy was Dan Ackroyd’s performance, but I never found it boring at all. I thought Morgan Freeman’s character was a bit of a stereotype; I think they tried to see the truth in that kind of stereotype, possibly, and just didn’t get all that far.

    “Why shoud Beresford feel cheated?” You’d feel cheated, too, if the movie scored nominations for just about everything but director — and it’s very smoothly, gracefully directed, with Beresford’s customary storytelling skill that managed to adapt a two-character play without ever making it look stagy.

    I love this statement: “And it’s not like he did anything to get those performances out of Tandy and Freeman.”

    First of all, how in the world do you know — and do you say that about every film that has a great performance in it by the lead actor or actors? How do you know he didn’t have a hand in shaping those performances, since he is, after all, the director? Think he just arrived on the set and told both of them to do their thing, gave no input whatever? Is that also why Robert Duvall won the Oscar for Tender Mercies? Is that why Sissy Spacek and Tess Harper were nominated for Crimes of the Heart? Is that why Edward Woodward and Bryan Brown gave such riveting performances in Breaker Morant? Think it’s all just good casting — and nothing else?

    Second of all, you may well have paid him, without intending to, the greatest compliment, since besides having a total vision of the way a film is supposed to be played, a great director makes it look easy, makes it look like he did little or nothing. None of us sitting in an audience see the months of hard work that go on between a director and an actor, and in the end it is the actor who shines. Maybe that’s why Tandy was so gracious to him in her acceptance speech?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    The director is not supposed to look like he did little or nothing at all. He’s supposed to use the tools at hand and the language of film to enhance the story. Other than the locations, this was just a play shot on film. All Bruce did was turn the camera on and off. I’ve seen better direction on the clips from “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

    I love this statement: “And it’s not like he did anything to get those performances out of Tandy and Freeman.”

    First of all, how in the world do you know — and do you say that about every film that has a great performance in it by the lead actor or actors?

    No I don’t say that about evey great performance. But you act like he plucked these amazing performances out of second-rate actors. Scorsese making Sharon Stone look very good in “that movie about the mob in Nevada” is not the same thing as getting a very good performance out of Freeman, Duvall, Spacek or Tandy. How many of these actors went back to work with Beresford? If he was so important and instrumental in culling their performances, the actors would return to the partnership.

    And again, if that’s all you got out of “Do The Right Thing”, that’s on you. A path was chosen, a consequence laid out, a judgement made. I’m not telling you not to like it, but it’s not Lee’s fault that you don’t get it.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Now you’re just sucking wind, El Bicho. How am I supposed to respond to comments that aren’t even worth taking seriously? “He’s supposed to use the tools at hand and the language of film to enhance the story.” Well duh — but there are several ways of doing that, either by favoring a very marked, personal style or by retreating somewhat, making sure nothing gets in the way of the story. That’s what Beresford did. Keep in mind I’m not saying it’s a great film, but there’s no question in my mind it’s a well-made film with a high degree of professional polish.

    “But you act like he plucked these amazing performances out of second-rate actors.”

    Is that what I said? I said “How do you know he didn’t have a hand in shaping those performances, since he is, after all, the director?” — a question you have yet to answer. No surprise, of course, since your idea of good direction is “America’s Funniest Videos,” and you seem to be under the delusion that great performances are purely a matter of the actor’s own intelligence and imagination. Did that happen in this case, or do you know? Keep in mind that while Morgan Freeman played the role on stage, a film director may well want a certain kind of emphasis for a certain kind of shot, because he has to keep the whole picture in his head. So he certainly could have brought a certain shape to the performances. That doesn’t at all mean Freeman and Tandy aren’t great actors; it means they are great actors, because they can deliver on film.

    As for Sharon Stone, I have no reason to think that Scorsese alone “made her look good” — but again, I’m sure he had a hand in it. The performance though was up to her, and it was powerful because in the right role (or even a lousy one, like the first Basic Instinct) she’s terrific.

    Your final question — “How many of these actors went back to work with Beresford?” — is beyond absurd.

    Freeman, Duvall, Spacek or Tandy all won or were nominated for Oscars, so their first career decision was never to work with Beresford again? Wise up. Tandy, first of all, died. Beresford does a lot of different kinds of films; maybe he hasn’t wanted to work with the others again, or there hasn’t been the right role. It’s not like those actors exclusively work in good films, either; they’ve all done their share of shit, especially Freeman. But if you can show me some statement they’ve made indicating that none of them think they owe Bruce Beresford a damn thing, or hope never to work with him again, I’d love to know about it.