Alt Film Guide
Classic movies. Gay movies. International cinema. Socially conscious & political cinema.
Home Film ArticlesMovie Reviews Crash (Movie 2005): Contrived Ethnically Conscious Drama

Crash (Movie 2005): Contrived Ethnically Conscious Drama

4 minutes read

Crash movie Ryan Phillippe as good Los Angeles cop with racist side
Crash movie: Ryan Phillippe plays a good & white Los Angeles cop with subconscious ‘racist side.’

Crash movie review: California tossin’ & turnin’

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Screenwriter Paul Haggis’ multiple award-winning directorial debut, Crash, is set in a Los Angeles that is part Quentin Tarantino, part Paul Thomas Anderson, part Spike Lee, part Bret Easton Ellis. Haggis’ L.A. also happens to be a place with precious little in common with the Southern California metropolis located on Planet Earth.

In the film, Haggis and co-screenwriter Robert Moresco tell us – or rather, scream at us – that the Angeleno boiling (definitely not melting) pot is about to explode at any moment, as Los Angeles denizens spend all their spare time hating, fearing, misunderstanding, and cheating on one another. And perhaps much of that is true, except that most of that hate, fear, misunderstanding, and cheating have absolutely nothing to do with ethnic or national differences.

But not in this particular L.A., situated in some warped La La Landish universe where everything revolves around skin color and nationality.

Sledgehammering the message home

Unfortunately, “subtlety” seemed to be a word missing from Paul Haggis’ moviemaking dictionary. Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning boxing drama Million Dollar Baby (2004), which Haggis adapted for the screen, features mostly one-dimensional characters and, however crowd- and critic-pleasing, painfully contrived situations.

Crash, the second back-to-back Best Picture Oscar winner written/co-written by Haggis,[1] consists of a parade of ethno-oriented verbal and physical assaults spread among various subplots tied together by a series of absurd “coincidences.”

We thus go from heavily accented East Asians lashing out at native-born Americans, and from there to white Americans lashing out at black Americans lashing out at other white Americans lashing out at Iranians lashing out at Hispanic Americans – who apparently work so hard they don’t have the energy to lash out at anyone.

At the other extreme, we have (the curiously olive-skinned) Sandra Bullock as the embodiment of white, bourgeois racism and xenophobia. Bullock’s well-to-do character makes use of her bountiful free time by lashing out at just about anyone who doesn’t look or sound like her. It takes a fall down a flight of stairs for her to see the error of her ways.

Crash Movie Sandra Bullock embodiment of racist white privilege
Crash movie: Sandra Bullock as the embodiment of bourgeois, racist ‘white privilege.’

Excellent Matt Dillon & Ryan Phillippe

Admittedly, Crash does have its positive side. The film boasts a number of solid performances, particularly those of Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe as police officers, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as a race-obsessed street thug, and Thandie Newton as the high-strung wife of a television director.

Additionally, Mark Isham’s affecting, minimalist score and the production’s generally excellent technical credits – cinematography by J. Michael Muro (a.k.a. James M. Muro); editing by Hughes Winborne – help to bring to life Haggis and Moresco’s screenplay.

Yet none of these elements – or the couple of plot twists that ring true – are enough to lift Crash out of its inherent simple-mindedness.

El Niño effect?

At the end of the film, instead of frogs falling from the sky à la Magnolia we get some much-needed snow (something incredibly rare in the L.A. area) to cool things down. The melting pot will keep on simmering, but the heavens won’t let it explode into a zillion pieces.

Considering all the psychopaths who inhabit Haggis and Moresco’s Los Angeles, that is just too bad.

Crash (movie 2005) cast & crew

Director: Paul Haggis.

Screenplay: Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco (a.k.a. Bobby Moresco).
From a story by Paul Haggis.

Cast: Sandra Bullock. Ryan Phillippe. Don Cheadle. Matt Dillon. Brendan Fraser. Jennifer Esposito. Thandie Newton. Shaun Toub. Michael Peña. William Fichtner. Terrence Howard. Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges. Bahar Soomekh. Larenz Tate. Loretta Devine. Karina Arroyave. Tony Danza. Nona Gaye.

[1] Crash Best Picture Oscar win – beating odds-on favorite Brokeback Mountain was (and remains) one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. A gay cowpoke love story, Brokeback Mountain stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway. Ang Lee directed.

Ryan Phillippe and Sandra Bullock Crash images: Lionsgate.

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us and write your own movie commentaries, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.

1 comment

Nathan Donarum -

I think this is actually one of the best reviews I’ve read of Crash. Why? Because it treats it exactly as it should be treated. Not as some life-altering brilliant work of fiction, nor as one of the worst disgraces to ever appear on screen. It’s a pretty middle of the road kind of movie in which a very talented cast and clearly well-executed technical credits are unfortunately overshadowed by a sad simplemindedness concerning an issue that is perhaps the most complicated and multi-faceted issue in America. To boil things down to essentially “we all judge based on race”, or even more simply “we all have a tendency to be a little racist” misses the mark by a mile. There’s no subtlety in Haggis and Moresco’s screenplay to suggest that perhaps what drives us is not just the exterior. Matt Dillon’s character comes the closest, especially when he finally begins to question his own moral and ethical code. Why didn’t the whole movie treat its characters with this much care? Why are we instead treated to such one-dimensionality? Ludacris gives us perhaps the second most-realized character in the sense that he feels like a real person. Being a black man from a poverty-stricken part of town, it’s not hard to understand why HIS lenses are colored by race. But unfortunately, this is a character that we’ve seen all-too-often in much greater films. It’s all frustrating to say the least.

I will say that I agree that Mark Isham’s score is beautiful. I think at times I overlooked many of the film’s contrivances because the score was so good.

At the end of the day, Crash will always be remembered, not because it made an indelible mark on American cinema, but because in the end it overshadowed another movie that did. But that’s a conversation and debate that has been talked and fought to oblivion. I need not rehash it here.


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Privacy Policy