Crash (2004, Paul Haggis)
!!!!! AVOID !!!!!
“We crash so we can feel something,” announces Don Cheadle in the opening scene — does that have any meaning whatsoever beyond what some hack El Lay greeting card writer thinks “the ordinary people” feel? No. Welcome to Social Problem Cinema. Amateurish when it’s not simply clueless, Paul Haggis’ Crash is so ridiculous I don’t even think it needs pointing out. To simply name all of its logical implausibilities would let it off the hook. The film rides on the empty argument that “everyone is a little racist” and thereby operates under a smokescreen of “tolerance” so it can ruthlessly uphold stereotypes, even forgiving racism to an extent since it shows its racist characters as courageous humans under pressure, and it’s manipulative, clueless, and empty-headed in nearly comic quantities. Forget “almost”; it may as well be a comedy, in which case it’s a deft parody of an isolationist perspective on race relations. Haha, did you ever notice how whenever something goes slightly wrong in your life and it involves an ethnic person you immediately become a psychopath spouting off racial slurs. Then you fall down the stairs or save someone from a burning car or something and you have a Revelation. Unfortunately, Crash thinks it’s Very Important. And in case you haven’t noticed yet that it’s Very Important, it repeatedly slams you over the head with its importance. (Haggis actually literally compared his writing to a hammer; that Haggis thinks this is a good thing proves he should be kept away from the movie business, or from any artform, at all costs.)
I could point out that Crash is preachy and unsubtle and condescending on a level with a similarly stupid glorified afterschool special about racism, American History X, which did at least have better acting. Just as the world seemed to exist in a bubble in American History X, the same bubble seems to have fallen over Los Angeles in this film — it’s a world where people have spontaneous convictions and prejudices which apparently are so deeply felt that they enter their lives on a constant basis, and yet can be shifted or turned around after a few minutes of persuasion from some other moron. But what says the most in damning Crash is that American History X’s three lead characters were all white supremacists, and yet Crash has more assholes in it. Seemingly everyone in Crash is artificially, blindly angry, bitchy, and whiny. Only one character in the movie is killed. They all deserve to die. Slowly.
I could drop the sociological pandering for a moment, too, and mention how not since Magnolia — which it rips off with wild abandon — has a movie relied on story ideas and connections so thin to make a point so dubious. Haggis’ writing makes a painful transition from page to screen (watch the intolerably stagy, contrived sequence of the improvised anti-Negro country song), placing further emphasis on how far he seems to sit from reality. The connections between characters frequently make no sense (for instance, the redemption of the Persian asshole who tries to kill a little girl but was sold blanks by a racist gunshop owner and is left inexplicably standing in the street is implausible, impossible, and incomprehensible). Crash attempts to make you find it in your heart to sympathize with a broad variety of people — I mean, please don’t neglect Matt Dillon’s dad who can’t piss — but fails to illuminate any of them. In not one person is a significant level of identification achieved with the audience; even if Haggis could do this, his enormous quantity of characters prevents it.
With the absence of time and no ability to show rather than tell, the director basically screams in the audience’s face with a ham-fisted bag of public service announcement tricks for two hours. This isn’t the worst movie ever given this kind of praise, but it may be the most incompetently, blandly, anonymously directed. There’s nothing that could be quietly implied that Haggis wouldn’t prefer to say, especially if it’s long after the audience has figured it out. Like any self-righteous instructor (and Crash is little more than an educational video, with no true entertainment value and certainly no sense of fun), Haggis loves telling people shit they already know and getting credit for it from people who like to have the masses preached to about their perceived intolerance. “Those people,” indeed.
Crash is a sheltered rich boy’s film about a world said boy doesn’t understand. Haggis wrote Clint Eastwood’s equally pandering, pretentious Million Dollar Baby, and it shows: Crash is a feature-length expansion of the scenes of Hilary Swank’s family in that film, the snarky, uncaring rednecks that undoubtedly represent Haggis’ viewpoint of the lower classes, who weren’t enlightened enough to go and see this instead of House of Wax. There is no reality of the world he can’t reduce to an archetype, so of course he is the right man to preach to us against prejudice. And the subject matter of Crash apparently gives him the right to indulge himself: Ludacris rants against white people looking upon all blacks as thugs, then is shown to be a thug. The lady in charge of Dillon’s health insurance has a stereotyped “black” name and an overdone “attitude,” but since the movie is about racism, that’s okay. None of the characters are believable humans, and none of their lives make a damn bit of sense, but that’s okay! This movie isn’t about story, it’s about message, all delivered to us by cardboard hypothetical cutouts. So what’s the fucking point? There isn’t any, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Haggis has nothing interesting or important to say, nor will he ever, about a real dimension of life he knows nothing about. Manderlay was a more believable account of race relations than this, and that’s saying something.
I thought perhaps this might not still stand as the worst Best Picture winner in my mind on account of both my renewed contempt for Forrest Gump and this film’s many moments of unintentional hilarity. But the movie is too outrageously offensive, and outrageously stupid, to really enjoy in any context. Provided you’re a fan of watching Sandra Bullock falling down the stairs (a comic highlight) to the tune of wordless wailing on the soundtrack, and who isn’t, the acting in the movie is sort of serviceable. But don’t look for the cast to illuminate anything in the people they’re playing. The writing (and direction) just isn’t there. Virtually none of their actions are plausible. You might as well read the news to get insight into characters. But I don’t want to go into all that. I could tell you how Crash is infatuated with its own self-imposed significance, I could recount David Edelstein’s pointed and correct argument that “a universe in which we’re all racist puppets is finally just as simpleminded and predictable as one in which we’re all smiling multicolored zombies in a rainbow coalition”, I could call Crash an insult to every filmgoer in America, which it is. But I won’t. Because you all know that. I just wish someone had told the Academy. Instead they made the most appalling, boneheaded choice for their top honor in their nearly ninety-year history. This is the worst film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
[Posted this originally back in 2006 or 2007, I forget which, who cares, god this movie is the worst, time to suicide.]