Crash movie review: California tossin’ & turnin’
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, 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.
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.
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.
 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.