By Adam Donato
In 2005, Paul Haggis managed to write, direct, and produce Crash, a movie that tries to tackle racism with interconnected stories about people of different ethnicities coming into conflict with one another over their differences. The film was only able to get off the ground due to its ensemble cast of recognizable names like Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and… Ludacris. Domestically, it made about $50 million at the box office and doubled that number with its overseas haul. The Oscars ignored the critical controversy around the film by giving Crash three Oscars for Editing, Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. Fifteen years later, it’s interesting to see the decline in popular opinion of what was one of the best movies of 2005.
In 2006, Jack Nicholson announced Crash as Best Picture at The Oscars over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. In 2019, when Green Book won Best Picture, it was compared to Crash, as both are movies that have obvious themes about racism and didn’t deserve Best Picture. When sub-par movies are put on a pedestal or given accolades over more deserving features, they get labeled as overrated. The worst thing that could’ve happened to Crash is winning the Best Picture Oscar. This raises an important question that this review won’t be able to fully answer: What makes a movie worthy of Best Picture? Crash had the support of the Screen Actors Guild due to its all-star cast. Haggis had written the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, the Best Picture of the previous year. It was about a prevalent social/political issue. The conception of the movie is an underdog story for the ages, with Haggis having to use his own car and house as sets. So it’s understandable, in hindsight, why Crash won Best Picture. The last thing that makes a movie worthy of Best Picture (which should be the first, but we don’t live in a perfect world), is the quality of the movie itself. This begs the question: is Crash good?
No. Crash feels like the type of movie that you would show to middle school children in an effort to explain what racism is. The characters in the movie are either redeemed despite their previous bigotry or left in tragedy despite a previous track record of doing their best. A great deal of the dialogue, while probably is said by people in real life, is laughable. Characters throw around racist slang terms as insults and it usually lands in a comical fashion. Some of the scenarios the characters are put in are entirely contrived in the most ridiculous way. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when Ludacris is giving a monologue about racism, all the while playing into the stereotype he’s arguing against. The movie mostly comes across as preachy as it beats you over the head with racism. Filmmakers are supposed to manipulate the audience, but audiences don’t like knowing they’re being manipulated. Some people don’t care for the ending of Toy Story 3, because of course it’s upsetting to see your childhood toys accept death together as they are about to descend into the fiery pits of hell. It’s a cheap scare, like when a character quietly walks into a dark room and gets frightened by their cat in a horror movie. The same principle applies to Crash. The sheer volume of obvious racism in the movie is overkill. It’s fair to say this movie is catering towards the Academy voters with its shoehorned Los Angeles setting and heavy-handed morality tale.
Now, with all that being said, yes. All the negative things the previous paragraphed detailed about Crash are true, but it’s also very good in a lot of ways. The film's lack of subtly kind of makes it brilliant. It’s very possible to watch this movie as a comedy by laughing at all the cringe-worthy dialogue and insanely coincidental story. Let’s go one step further and actually pick out the good in the movie. The movie is very well-edited. The ability to find a way to connect all these stories so that the overall picture makes sense is the saving grace of this picture. No character feels like they’re gone for too long and the emotional beats are hit quite consistently. The entire cast does an amazing job, considering what they’re given to work with. Sometimes, the performances feel over-the-top, but it works because the movie is already so excessive. The soundtrack of the movie sets the tone perfectly and In the Deep by Kathleen York and Michael Becker was very deserving of its Best Original Song nomination at the Oscars. The movie is shot competently enough by cinematographer James M. Muro. Lastly, it’s clear that Haggis made the exact movie he wanted to make, which is endearing after everything he went through to make this movie happen.
The themes of the film are very complicated. In fact, that last word kind of sums of the point of the movie — it’s complicated. To err is human. There are no good or bad people in this movie. Characters, who are prejudiced learn a lesson and are redeemed. Other characters who seem virtuous discover they’re not as clean as they think and suffer for it. Just like the Avenue Q song, everyone’s a little racist. Human beings often let their differences lead to conflict, but through compassion and understanding, we can see the best in people. It’s hard to break barriers without crashing into them.
Crash is anything but subtle. It certainly is a movie that gets people to react. Whether they’re laughing or crying or angry, they feel something and that’s all the movie is trying to do. Cheadle’s character has an opening monologue about today’s people having to crash into one another just to feel something. After the Oscar backlash, Haggis admitted the movie wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it was one that stuck with people. As a person who watches movies all the time, it’s nice to watch one that sticks. If Crash makes people reflect on themselves and see the prejudices they have that prevent them from connecting with others, then that sounds like a pretty important movie. Maybe even one deserving of Best Picture.
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