Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco
Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Ryan Phillippe, Karina Arroyave, Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate, Dato Bakhtadze, Shaun Toub, Keith David, William Fichtner, Tony Danza, Loretta Devine, Marina Sirtis, Michael Peña
R (For language, sexual content and some violence)
Can an amalgam of stereotypes really provide a suitable admonition of racial tension? Crash tries to do just that.
In a nearly two hour film, a scant few multi-layered characters trip through a preposterous critique of race relations in the City of Angels. Los Angeles surely has plenty of stereotypical whites, blacks, Hispanics and Pakistanis but doesn’t it also house plenty of atypical folks of varying races? If you watch Crash , you could hardly believe it was a possibility.
Would Angelinos really feel they were adequately represented in Paul Haggis’ uncharacteristically banal film? It’s hard to say. I’m from the Midwest and if I were to take this film as a characterization of everything Los Angeles was about, I don’t think I’d ever want to go there. The scenes painted here are of vocally aggrieved people who lash out at those of different races, and in some cases, those of the same race.
This film represents the type of bigoted aggression you’d envision coming from a clichéd small, Midwestern town. It’s not true here anymore than it is elsewhere in the United States. Prejudice is well hidden now. Political correctness has forced racism into the closet and it would elicit great derision in most places. It isn’t something we can ever escape from. Even the most open-minded person can harbor negative thoughts about someone outside their cultural familiarity but they wouldn’t dare speak out about it in fear of being labeled a racist.
But what harm can a film like Crash do? It exposes the doubts and fears of many when dealing with others who are different physically, economically and sociologically. There are vocalized truths emerging from these characters. The problem is that the characters themselves are undeveloped stereotypes. Only Terrence Howard’s film producer facing prejudice on the back lot and the Michael Peña’s locksmith dealing with the hatred while trying to support a family reveal any true depth of character beyond stereotypes.
Even Matt Dillon’s racist cop who must deal with an invalid father at home fails to develop any three-dimensionality. Though Dillon does his best to create that profundity, it just isn’t there.
In trying to create a film to address the touchy subject of race, Haggis has compounded issues and only superficially highlighted them. Take for instance the relationship between Dillon’s cop and the superb Thandie Newton as Howard’s producer’s wife. During a routine traffic stop, Dillon manhandles her while enforcing negative stereotypes. Then, later, when she’s involved in a traffic accident, he throws those stereotypes aside to rescue her, but her trepidation about the previous incident causes her to resist Dillon’s efforts and fight back thinking he’s just trying to feel her up again. The situation resolves in their embrace. However, Dillon goes back to the same racist ways when dealing with a black government official.
No one truly learns a lesson in the film at least not superficially. For example, Sandra Bullock voices anti-Hispanic sentiments in front of Peña’s locksmith. She later falls down the stairs but only her Hispanic house maid is there to help. When put in a position of danger, we tend to forget our preconceived notions as we fight for survival but those prejudices inevitably resurface when the danger has passed; however, we are led to believe by the conclusion of that storyline that Bullock will be forever changed.
Haggis did extremely well with Million Dollar Baby but then Crash comes along and ruins any good will we felt towards him as a screenwriter. In addition to authoring the loosely-linked characters, he directs them. Scenes are captured with a lazy lens. Tension is forcibly created by our minds instead of by any strong use of framing. Perhaps experience will teach him that but Haggis, if he continues to direct, will likely become another Joel Schumacher instead of the next Ingmar Bergman.
December 25, 2005