Sara Libby calls Crash the worst movie of the aughts.
It’s been called a “feel-good” racism movie – one that leads people to believe they’re on the right side of racism, when in fact they’re just having their buttons pushed and their preconceived notions re-affirmed.
In the film, the characters exist in what former L.A. Times critic Carina Chocano called a “daisy chain of bigotry.” Every interaction that takes place becomes racially tinged, whether it’s a simple business transaction, an auto mishap or even just a conversation with your own mom. I make my living in Los Angeles, writing about race, and even I don’t find race coming in to play when I order a cup of coffee, get money from the ATM, get my mail and go running. But in the world of “Crash,” all of those simple tasks would somehow become over-the-top racial incidents, complete with shouting and wild cultural misunderstandings. (It also needs to be said that when you’re living in a city with a 4 million-plus population, you do not keep running into the same six people over and over and over again.)
The movie is manipulative and unrealistic – the characters tend to reveal their true feelings in the most over-the-top and obvious ways imaginable. If racism is indeed so pervasive that it seeps into every interaction, why does the movie need such a complicated, twisting plot? …
The fact that racism exists should go without saying, and yet “Crash” wastes an entire film trying to prove what we already know is true. …
Bad movies get made all the time. But what infuriated me about “Crash” was that so many people mistook it for something profound when it was truly the opposite. It shouts at the top of its lungs: “I’M SUBTLE! I’M NUANCED!” and so many people somehow agreed.
I’ve complained about this film at length here before, and while I’ve seen movies that were more poorly made, I’ve never actively hated a movie as much as Crash. Its basic premise seems to be that personal animus is the well from which racism springs, and that absolution from racism can be found in being violently forced to relinquish one’s bitterness. (Or something.)
The film goes about making this very dubious point in the most ham-fisted ways imaginable. The bitter, racist white cop played by Matt Dillon gets into an argument with a black insurance company employee and proceeds to tell her that his dad helped black people and calls her a lazy affirmative action hire. (This is how almost all of the interactions in the movie play out.) Later he pulls over a black TV exec (Terrance Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) who are driving home from some function. It’s made clear that he pulled them over because Howard is a black man driving a fancy car. Dillon revels in the skewed power dynamic of the traffic stop, antagonizing Howard and molesting Newton while his horrified partner (Ryan Phillippe) looks on. Later, in the movie’s big action set piece, Newton’s character is trapped in a burning car and — improbably but perhaps predictably — the first responder is Dillon, who risks his life to save her. This is supposed to be redemption for his racism and his earlier sexual assault of Newton. (Or something.)
Crash hews to the tired “intent vs. effect” view of racism: it didn’t matter that he’d terrorized and traumatized two innocent people in his role as a cop; what matters is that he was sad and loved his father. You don’t know what’s in my heart. It’s ultimately a movie about race for people who don’t like to think about race. Seeing how it won an Oscar for Best Picture, this more or less indicts most of Hollywood.