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Crash (2004)

May 13, 2009

4/10 Racial Slurs

I’ve always been pretty suspect of the Oscar voting polls. But 2005 had me scratching my head when Crash won for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing, with The Academy almost completely overlooking a much better movie that came out that year, Brokeback Mountain.

But now is not to the time to go on an Oscar rant. Maybe I’ll do that next February.

Taking place in modern-day Los Angeles, Crash follows a day in the life of about a dozen different people from various ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds as they struggle to cope with racism when it’s staring them right in the face.

It’s a good idea but it’s executed poorly. My main issue isn’t with the technical aspects of Crash, which are top-notch for the most part, but rather the storytelling aspects of it.

The thing with Crash is that it plays out more like a racially charged soap opera instead of a meditation on what fosters racism to begin with. Racism is not a black-and-white issue (no pun intended), but Crash tries to break it down for the audience so that everyone’s motivations and mindsets are practically crystal clear.

The characters are embodiments of extreme racial stereotypes and there’s not a whole lot of subtlety to be found outside of their constant yelling and screaming about how everyone in L.A. is a bigot. And to no fault of the actors, the dialogue tends to feel very forced, like they’ve been saving up a laundry list of sharp, racist comebacks and now they’ve finally gotten to use them all. I was waiting for the audience in the theater to start cheering “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” after a while.

It doesn’t help either that the situations they are put into are unbelievable extremes aimed to out-do the scene prior, hoping to tug at the heartstrings of the audience until they snap.

The one real saving grace of the movie that runs counter to all these problems is Matt Dillon’s performance as a racist L.A. cop. If the whole movie were about him, this would be a much better review.

I know a lot of people who liked Crash, and I’m not really one to say whether you’ll like it or not. It’s important that movies like this get made, but it’s even more important for people to form and vocalize their own opinions on what this movie has to say. If Crash does one thing really well, it gets people talking.

But look, if you want to see a good, challenging movie about race relations in modern-day America, go watch Do The Right Thing. Crash‘s heart is in the right place, but the way it goes about getting it’s message across is all wrong.

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