A surprise winner of Best Picture at the 78th Academy Awards, Crash features an intertwining narrative set over two days in Los Angeles. Not to be confused with David Cronenberg’s 1996 film of the same name (as I did), the movie features a series of stories, each with a theme of racism. A large ensemble cast that includes the likes of Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser and Terence Howard compete for screen time but each is given just enough to serve their purpose.
I’ve never felt an urge to watch Crash and only really did so as part of my Best Picture Series. While it isn’t a bad film, I’m more than a little surprised it won film’s top award in 2005. Unusually for me I’ve only actually seen one more of the Best Picture nominees from that year, Capote, which itself was fine but not what I’d consider film of the year quality. Crash’s win may come down to the fact that 2004 was a poor year for film as it is one of the weakest Oscar winners I’ve seen so far.
My main problem with the film is that its message was just so obvious. I get that racism is bad, you’d have to be pretty closed minded not to but it doesn’t tread any new ground. The film opens with a great scene featuring two black guys leaving a restaurant in an affluent area. One of them is complaining about the way they were treated and about how white people stereotype them for being black. There is then a great reveal which confounds their entire conversation. At the time I thought to myself that the scene is a great metaphor for racism and racial expectations but then the film spent another hour and three quarters telling basically the same story from different perspectives, races and cultures.
As someone who was once accused of being racist towards white people for telling someone that I had no problem with immigration, I’m no stranger to the issues and complexities surrounding race. It’s a fascinating topic both from a cultural and anthropological perspective and the idea of racism is abhorrent to me. Crash though plays out as though it is the first film to have discovered racism is an issue. It almost screams out that “You know, racism doesn’t have to just be black/white, there’s Persians and all sorts”. It often feels patronising towards its audience. It’s commendable to make an impassioned film about such an issue but its way of telling the story is just to suggest that people are racist and then sometimes they can change their mind, or visa versa. I was also very unimpressed by the way one characters’ reaction to a situation was automatically placed at the feet of divine intervention. The switches characters make between right and wrong don’t feel natural and seem to suggest that racism is something that is built into all of us. That is an idea which I disagree with and find goes against the rest of the film’s message. There was also far too much coincidence for my liking.
Despite my various qualms I was gripped by the story and the one hour fifty minutes seemed to fly by. I was impressed with the acting overall but in particular Thandie Newton and Chris Bridges, a man who I’ve never seen act before. In general though the whole cast was fine even though in a couple of cases such as Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon, they had to play less than savoury characters. The film was also well made and I have no complaints about its cinematography, direction or general style. The dialogue too was snappy and realistic. There were also several heartfelt and tender moments. My only real complaint is that it just holds up a card with the word racism written on it and shoves it in your face shouting “LOOK! RACISM!” It’s all far too obvious and simple. Just because a film explores an important subject, it doesn't automatically make it great. I believe that Crash has got by on its themes and isn't deserving of the praise it has received.