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.Powered by Sidelines