Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

02 March 2006

Review - Crash

Too many coincidences; too much racism.

Now I understand that this is a movie about coincidences and racism, but writer/director Paul Haggis went overboard in trying to hammer home his message. (Considering that he was the creator of "Walker, Texas Ranger," it should come as no surprise that subtlety is not Haggis's strong suit.)

I was constantly reminded of "Magnolia" (P.T. Anderson's film about coincidences and consequences) while watching "Crash." The similarities are astounding and cannot be completely accidental. Both films are about a large group of people whose lives become entwined over the course of one day in the LA area. Haggis even used P.T. Anderson's idea of tying all of the characters together at the end through the shared experience of an unusual meteorological event (although Anderson's idea was significantly more unusual).
For "Magnolia" to work, Anderson knew that he needed to reinforce his audience's willing suspension of disbelief and he did so brilliantly by introducing the film with vignettes of "real" stories which "proved" how often unbelievable coincidence really happen. What really made it work, though, was that in the end the role of coincidence within the film was less important than he had set it up to be, so it was easy to buy into the story. Haggis, on the other hand, threw together a series of coincidences so improbable that they would have made Anderson blush and without any sense of irony asked us to accept them at face value.

I'll grant that it's really not fair to compare "Crash" with "Magnolia," since Haggis is not nearly the filmmaker that Anderson is, but Haggis really should not have invited the comparison in the first place.

The cast of "Crash" is incredible and deserves all of the praise which is has been receiving. I just wish that they had been given a better script to bring to life. It was almost embarrassing to hear character after character reveal his racism to the audience by making ridiculously biased statements. The entire first twenty minutes of the film seemed to be dedicated to little more than making sure we knew that every character was racist. The sad truth is that - like it or not - we are all racists, but not everyone reveals his racist tendencies through words. The film would have been much more interesting if it explored the racist bent of characters who appeared to be "above" such behavior. Art should raise questions, not answer them; it should start discussions, not end them. I'd much rather have a debate with someone about whether Character X was really racist based on the complexity of his actions instead of just agreeing that, yes, Character X had to be racist because he said "[insert stereotype here]."

I did not dislike "Crash." There is a lot to like in it. I view the film as a kind of diamond in the rough that should have been polished up by a different director. The biggest trap for writers turned directors is their tendency to fall too much in love with their own ideas and to be unable to "murder their darlings" (as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch put it).

Since I will almost definitely not have a chance to review (or even see) "Brokeback Mountain" before Sunday, my pick for Best Picture from the four other nominees is "Capote." I will be just as pleased if "Good Night and Good Luck" wins, since it is almost as good, but neither "Crash" not "Munich" deserve serious consideration.


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