IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Crash

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When Hubilub asked me to review Paul Haggis' Crash from 2005, he did so in the following charming fashion:

It won three Oscars and IT'S FUCKING HORRIBLE!. I hate it so much! It's so stupid and preachy and.... GOD!

I'd seen the film years ago, and while I didn't quite remember if it was all that great or not, I did remember feeling uncomfortable watching it, at times. If the film does have a message to shout from its pulpit, it goes something like this: PEOPLE ARE SELFISH PRICKS. It's a message couched in one racially-charged conversation after another occasionally broken up with music that felt like it came from the secret love child of Enya and Coldplay. It's got "Oscar bait" written all over it.

I can't quite bring myself to call it "bad", though.

Courtesy Lion's Gate
Haggis: "Look, Academy! You can tell it's art by the way it's shot!"

It's funny, actually, that I'm watching this right after having watched Pulp Fiction again. Both films involve different plots following an ensemble cast of individuals that weave into and out of each other. In the case of Crash we follow two married couples, two families and two sets of partners who live and work in Los Angeles and deal with issues of bigotry, racism and prejudice. Everybody screws up, everybody lets emotions get the better of them, and most of them learn something. It's a little snapshot of the human experience, and the film tries very hard to err on the side of honesty about the human condition.

Let's get the praise out of the way: the film is neither written nor acted badly. From bigger names like Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock to surprises like Ludacris, Michael Peña, Shaun Toub and Bahar Soomekh, the delivery of lines and flow of conversations feels natural more often than not. It does feel a bit more scripted than Pulp Fiction's dialog, but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of cinematography, Crash is well-shot, presenting the situations and conversations in an unflinching manner. While this sort of straightforward on-location film-making does keep the audience focused on the meaning of a scene rather than distracting them with superfluous gimmickry, it also makes the heavy-handed nature of the film's message all the more obvious.

Courtesy Lion's Gate
Haggis: "IT'S ART I TELL YOOOOOOOU!"

And when I say 'heavy-handed', folks, I mean Crash drops meaning into our laps with all of the subtlety of an anvil dropped from the bomb bay of a B-52. It's like Paul Haggis took the Avenue Q song "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" and re-scored it into a ninety minute operetta. If we were to compare, say, Crash toSchindler's List, the most apparent difference is that Crash is an entirely fictional work whose characters and conversations merely serve as a vehicle for delivering this rather pedantic message, while Schindler's List actually downplays the very real horror and tragedy of historical events yet still retains the power of its message without having to be blatant about it. Going in the other direction, take another look at Die Hard with a Vengeance some time. Seriously, the dynamic between John McClaine and Zeus Carver feels a lot more natural and realistic in terms of two men of differing races overcoming their prejudices than a lot of the stuff that happens in Crash. (Also, Vengeance has more gunfights and explosions. And Jeremy Irons.)

Back to Crash. If the film is to be believed, it's not just that racism is bad and people are selfish pricks. Let's see, there's also the fact that just about everybody in LA is thoroughly racist, buying guns in the US is pretty easy for just about anybody even if the salesman is a fat bigoted pervert, and being a racist cop who abuses the position is okay as long as they do their job when its called for. And that's just some of the unfortunate implications. As much as the script might not be terrible, the plot relies so much on convenience and contrivance that it seems to be talking about predestination and fate as much as it is racism. The pretentiousness of the message coupled with this reliance on the blatantly artificial construction of situations hurls the moviegoer out of the experience with all of the comfort and guidance of someone sitting in the sling of a trebuchet and kicking the release lever thinking that it's an overly elaborate swing set.

Courtesy Lion's Gate
Don can't get into that War Machine armor fast enough, if you ask me.

I don't want to give the impression that Crash is a bad movie. There are things in it that go just a bit too far and take away from the overall experience. The good acting is countered by the contrived plot points. The decent conversations are balanced with the message that has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The end result is something that is, in my opinion, worth watching once or twice but not really deserving of much praise or attention beyond that, and certainly not Best Picture material.

As a personal aside as I wrap this up, I'll admit I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain or Munich, two of the other films up for the coveted golden statue back in 2006. I have, however, seen Good Night and Good Luck. That film is well-written, finely acted, intimately shot and uses a documentary style and a basis in real events to add weight to its message. It doesn't hit you over the head with what it's trying to say. It's touching, funny and powerful. That film is Best Picture material. Crash tends to get a bit messy here and there. I've see worse messes, to be sure. So I guess Crash does get a recommendation, if you can get past the preachiness and the contrivances and the hammy moments and the laughably mournful score and...

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

I remember seeing this movie about three years ago for Sociology class, and I have to say in retrospect, yeah, you're right. It's a little too in-your-face with its message but some of its human moments are pretty dramatic, if a bit contrived as you said. Everything I have expected from you has happened and good job. Now come on...Sherlock Holmes!

A film that's less subtle than Die Hard "Blowing up a dam/Rappelling onto a moving ship" with a Vengeance?

Dear god.

I saw a bit of this film years ago, it's films like these, Oscar Bait, that's the reason I prefer B-movies, exploitation flicks and dumb actioners, because they're just SO FUCKING PRETENTIOUS. Give me Rambo II over The Blind Side any day.

A lovely review, you're on top form lately. Money seems to help!

I'll try and get some cash to you for my review soon, I think I might ask for something different.

Anyway, great review, annoying film!

EDIT: Actually, on what Hub said, I think that this film would have been more interesting if it was bad, at the moment, it's just dull, which is the worst sin a film can commit.

This is kind of my problem with Oscar bait movies. They aren't bad, but the obvious feeling that they're shooting for a statue rather than actually trying to have a lasting impact just makes them feel pretentious and annoying. It doesn't just take away from the experience, but it also makes you feel like it's pointing towards you and laughing, calling you idiot and demanding that you show emotions at the scenes it wants you to show emotions on. Every movie requires the viewer to have some suspension of disbelief, even the really, really good ones, and what Oscar bait films do is they more often than not completely obliterates any chance of immersion around the time it gets preachy.

All the obvious build-up to the scenes that are supposed to rock you to your very core just has you going "Oh come on, that's silly!" when you're supposed to go "OH MY GOD, NOOOOOO!". It's more important to be subtle in your build-up than it is to be subtle in your climax. For example, in Inglorious Basterds, you are treated to an incredibly tense and yet simple scene in the beginning, and in the ending you get a glorious climax that is undoubtedly over the top.

Some bad films you can laugh at for their horrible quality, some bad films you get angry at for being so bad. Then there are these films who have the potential, but misses the point completely. They hurt the most.

I admit that when I requested you to do the review at first, I was still in the moment of being mad at it. I still loathe this movie though, because while it isn't bad, it fails on what it wants to do: Move me. And a drama film that fails to move you is like an action film that doesn't have any good action: It leaves you disappointed, and makes you wonder why you're watching it in the first place.

I remember reading the book all those years ago.

I wonder if the movie is anything like it, but from what you described, it doesn't seem that way.

I remember a story about a football player being kind of a dick. And a nerdy kid with a small turtle. Then again this was from the book and book to movie translations usually cause lots of things to be left behind. There are exceptions of course.

Then again you may not have described much for fear of spoilers. All I know is that I read the book, was mildly entertained, and moved on. I didn't even know they made a movie about it until this review actually.

Either way, good review. Still won't watch the thing though, I hate most movies with in-your-face messages.

Solid review as always, though must confess I was rooting for "Crash" to take the Oscar that year. The talk of the film lacking subtlety in its message is definitely true, but the same could be said for "Munich" and "Brokeback" in my opinion.

100% agreed about "Good Night and Good Luck," but you knew the black and white presentation would hurt its chances, just like "Pan's Labyrinth" was never as widely received because of people not wanting to read subtitles(I can vouch when I used to manage a video store that people with generally good taste in movies would shy away from having to "work" to enjoy a film)

Irridium:
I remember reading the book all those years ago.

I wonder if the movie is anything like it, but from what you described, it doesn't seem that way.

I remember a story about a football player being kind of a dick. And a nerdy kid with a small turtle. Then again this was from the book and book to movie translations usually cause lots of things to be left behind. There are exceptions of course.

Then again you may not have described much for fear of spoilers. All I know is that I read the book, was mildly entertained, and moved on. I didn't even know they made a movie about it until this review actually.

Either way, good review. Still won't watch the thing though, I hate most movies with in-your-face messages.

This movie isn't based on that book. You're talking about the 1996 film. This is the 2005 version.

Hubilub:

Irridium:
I remember reading the book all those years ago.

I wonder if the movie is anything like it, but from what you described, it doesn't seem that way.

I remember a story about a football player being kind of a dick. And a nerdy kid with a small turtle. Then again this was from the book and book to movie translations usually cause lots of things to be left behind. There are exceptions of course.

Then again you may not have described much for fear of spoilers. All I know is that I read the book, was mildly entertained, and moved on. I didn't even know they made a movie about it until this review actually.

Either way, good review. Still won't watch the thing though, I hate most movies with in-your-face messages.

This movie isn't based on that book. You're talking about the 1996 film. This is the 2005 version.

Oh... well then damn. Forget what I said earlier. Still, I don't really like movies that try to force a message that I already know down my throat.

Irridium:

Oh... well then damn. Forget what I said earlier. Still, I don't really like movies that try to force a message that I already know down my throat.

It's funny, when I first read your post, I thought you were talking about the 2005 film.

BlueInkAlchemist:

Irridium:

Oh... well then damn. Forget what I said earlier. Still, I don't really like movies that try to force a message that I already know down my throat.

It's funny, when I first read your post, I thought you were talking about the 2005 film.

I didn't even know they made this film, let alone 2.

Shows how much I pay attention to the movie industry...

I thought Crash was one of the funniest movies ever. It took itself to seriously and ended up being a comedy. Great review the way.

Perticular Elk:
I thought Crash was one of the funniest movies ever. It took itself to seriously and ended up being a comedy. Great review the way.

There are definitely a few bits that I think became unintentionally hilarious, especially to my wife.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. :)

 

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