If “Crash” was the “upset” winner at last weekend’s Academy Awards, what does that say about the rest of the Best Picture nominees?
I watched “Crash” on DVD last night and thought … eh. “B”. Was it better than “Brokeback”? About equal. I found “Crash” to be ham-fisted in its storytelling, because its method of coincidentally linked plotlines between a dozen characters doesn’t leave much screen time for development or depth. As a result, the characters come off as formulaic: Here’s the racist cop and his green young partner; here are two quick-quipping young black thugs, one of whom constantly rails against The Man; here’s a “respectable” elected official who can’t wait to put his arm around a black man and have their picture taken; here’s the redneck gun shop owner who hates anyone with dark skin. I’ve seen them all before.
I know they’re rather beside the point, but the coincidences that bring these characters together become so … well, ludicrous, they’re distracting. I never knew L.A. was such a small town. And the idea that so many of these people would change so radically in such a short period of time and because of just one event in their lives also doesn’t ring true.
As for “messages,” “Crash” obviously proposes the notion that just about everyone in this world is a stone-cold racist—especially white people. There isn’t one wholly redeemable white character in this entire movie, and on two different occasions, white cops shoot black men. Even Matt Dillon’s racist cop and Sandra Bullock’s paranoid housewife aren’t given enough post-traumatic event screen time to know if they’ve really changed. What we do know, however, is that Ryan Philippe’s police officer went from being disgusted at racism to shooting a black kid in his car and dumping the body. That fall from grace was given plenty of resolution—because everybody’s a racist, you’ll recall (director Paul Haggis threw in a racially-fueled fight between a South American and an Asian just for good measure).
The one element of “Crash” that I really liked came from Bullock (her best performance in, well, ever), who complains to a girlfriend over the phone about waking up every morning feeling angry. But I don’t need to watch a movie to tell me that—I just look out my driver’s side window. A better film would have uncovered what made these characters so angry.
What I find most interesting about “Crash” and “Brokeback,” however, is their relative blips on the controversy Richter scale. Sure, “Brokeback” got an inordinate amount of hype (and “Crash” was talked up pretty well last spring), but there wasn’t any real “controversy” as compared to something like 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Why the difference? Because in today's cultural climate, heterosexual white people are scared to voice dissent (which Bullock's character mentions); nobody’s afraid to trash Christianity. You talk bad about “Brokeback”? Homophobe! Talk bad about “Crash”? Bigot! Just look at the reaction to Sunday’s Oscars—many critics took the position that “Brokeback’s” loss is a sign of rampant homophobia within the Academy. The same Academy that gave its Best Actor award for the portrayal of a gay man and gave nominations to three other actors portraying homosexual characters (or does Felicity Huffman’s transvestite go into a category all its own?). It couldn’t have been Academy voters thought “Crash” was a better movie, could it?
Back to my original point about “Crash”: The fact that this film won Best Picture says volumes about the current state of Hollywood. I encourage you to read Orson Scott Card’s brilliant pre-Oscar column, especially in light of George Clooney’s inane acceptance speech. (And Card’s a Democrat, by the way.) It reaffirms my contention that “Passion” is the greatest punk-rock movie ever made.
Check it out here (you'll have to copy and paste the URL):