Last night we watched Crash (Haggis 2005, not Cronenberg 1996). I’ve been hearing effusive praise about it for so long, and then it won the Oscar so I was expecting a great movie. What I saw, I wouldn’t even classify as good. I found it didactic, heavy-handed, ham-fisted, manipulative, and just impossible to maintain suspension of disbelief. For all that I expected a contemplative meditation on race relations, what I saw was a bunch of unpleasant cartoon characters spouting epithets and conducting soliloquies.
Honestly, modern American racism would be easier to deal with if everyone operated as transparently as they do in this film, showing their biases in the first 15 seconds of every conversation. Real racism isn’t this obvious and proud, it is mostly manifested in whispers and sidelong glances and small furtive movements. Real racism usually leaves you with the feeling it is there but not the surety. It is in codewords dropped in the conversations you have with someone that you know but didn’t know was a racist until they felt comfortable enough to let you into their dirty cracker circle. Real racism is destructive and painful when you can’t quite tell if it is there, making you doubt yourself and wonder if you are the one with the problem.
There were maybe three scenes of that level of subtlety for 10 minutes of the two hour run time. By the middle, I was getting awfully tired of being beaten with the stick of brutal obviousness. It was entirely too pat, where a character sins one evening and gets redeemed the next morning, where a city of millions seems to consist entirely of the same few dozen people running in to each other in coincidences more absurd than the zaniest episodes of Seinfeld. At multiple points, I shouted “Give me a break!” at the turns of events. Worse, I always felt the author of the material, dragging me by the ear from one object lesson to the next. I could hear the gears of the irony wheel engaging, see the strings being pulled. I never for one second felt like these were real people with real issues. While the actors were consistently good at doing what was asked of them, the script sold them all out and us too.
I walked in wanting to like this film. I was prepared for and desired a serious treatment of racism. What I got failed the seriousness of the topic by being so facile with an important subject. For a far superior treatment of this same kind of material, I recommend John Sayles’ City of Hope. It is a better treatise on interconnectedness and race relations that won’t insult your intelligence. Crash gets an unrecommendation from me. I wouldn’t have called it a “best picture of 2005.” It’s not even the best movie with that title in the last decade.