"Crash" and (please) Burn: 2005's Indie Smash is a Disaster

by Anthony Kaufman
June 19, 2005 3:24 AM
4 Comments
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I've been thinking a lot about "Crash" lately -- partly because I'd been avoiding it for months and finally saw it, and partly because it happens to be the most successful indie film of the year so far. Of course, it's not really "indie," because Lions Gate opened the film on over 1,800 screens. But when a relatively small movie out-grosses everything from "Cinderella Man" to "Fever Pitch" to "Kingdom of Heaven," people take notice and the powers shift. In this case, they will tilt, regretfully, in the direction of Paul Haggis, the TV hack turned screenwriter, who has managed to bamboozle millions of Americans and even the smartest of critics with his simplistic, sentimental dreck. (The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor: "one of the best Hollywood movies about race" -- oh Ella, why? why?)

Fiercely committed acting aside, "Crash" is an atrocity committed against the craft of drama, filled with forced, shorthand trickery to create hollow statements about race without a shred of humanity at its core. Resolutions come fast and furious -- sprain your ankle, heal your prejudices and hug your Hispanic maid -- letting audiences indulge and feel better about their own easily redeemable racist beliefs.

Like "Million Dollar Baby," which I cared for slightly more, Haggis' worldview comes in the type of stark black-or-white terms that the Bushies would enjoy. Think he's a horribly racist cop? No, he's caring for his ailing dad and deserves your sympathy. But this one's a good cop? Oh no, he's a bigoted murderer. One day, you're an underdog hero; the next, you're a quadriplegic who bites off her own tongue. From uncaring, tough-talking coach to conflicted, anguished mercykiller -- all in about 2 hours. It's just so easy! Haggis enjoys flipping his characters a full 180 degrees, less complicating stereotypes as reinforcing the poles. He doesn't really write characters, so much as use a cookie-cutter. Please Hollywood, don't give this guy free reign to make more movies.

As Haggis himself admited to the Los Angeles Times, "I was a really bad writer for a long time." And what exactly has changed?

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4 Comments

  • Anya | January 30, 2006 7:37 AMReply

    Hey Tony,
    I agree with your post and your feelings about this film. I felt the performances were fantastic and deserve attention, but the story was so... obvious. It seemed like there was so much potential, if he could have just built it with more subtlety. *sigh* Thanks for your review!

    (and yes, you know me... how the heck are you???!!!)

  • b harty | December 19, 2005 4:14 AMReply

    Hi Tony.
    I finally got around to renting 'Crash' and afterward I wondered what your take was so I looked it up on your blog. Thank god for you, man. All I've been hearing about is how great that movie is and I have to say that the only thoughts it "provoked" in me were those of disgust. What a bunch of crap. Only someone living in LA could believe it represents a serious discussion of racism, and that this unending display of serendipitous poetics and tidy redemptions somehow constitutes reality. I don't require that a movie be realistic, but this one was supposed to possess a scathing, unflinching, courageous insight into the state of Race in America when in fact episodes of 'Cosby' have been braver. You want to see a movie approach race with some balls, watch 'Storytelling.' I've never seen so many contrived scenes - that part where he jumps out of the SUV and walks up on the cops - they would've shot him, Phil Donhue, or anyone else who did that, but I guess then the car thief would've just continued on his cynical spiral towards prison. Every single character spoke with the same voice, didn't they? Terrible. Like 'Magnolia' with snow instead of frogs.
    Happy Holidays.

  • girish | August 12, 2005 7:24 AMReply

    So true. I'm baffled why the film has been so well-received (mainly in the mainstream press but also in pockets of the alt-pess).

    I actually never believed anything the film was doing, from the get-go, and always felt like I was on the outside, looking in with increasing skepticism at a bogus movie with (irrelevant, I know) good intentions.

  • maggie | June 22, 2005 1:53 AMReply

    Thanks. This is exactly what I've been saying since I saw this movie.

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