2005 / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #428: Crash (2005)

Often when critics compile their lists of worst Best Picture winners of all time there’s one film that comes out on top, or if you like bottom. That film is Crash, which triumphed at the 2006 ceremony despite another film being the odds on favourite going in. Having seen the majority of the Best Picture nominees at the time, I felt that Crash was quite harshly judged and believed that most people hated it because of the academy’s decision. But, watching it with my 2015 critic’s eyes I have to say that those people who slated Crash’s win at the time may have been more on the money than I initially thought.

Paul Haggis’ film, which he co-wrote with Bobby Moresco, follows a cavalcade of characters as their paths cross over two days in L.A. The characters include racist Police Officer John Ryan, DA Rick Cabot and his wife Jean, TV Producer Cameron Thayer and petty criminals Anthony and Peter. It’s pretty clear that Haggis’ main theme is that of race as almost every line of the script relates to the characters’ ethnicity or bigotry. Haggis changes the theme of race up a little by having many of the ethnic characters as racist as their white counterparts. This is best exemplified through black Police Lieutenant Dixon, who’d rather let racism go on in his force than risk his position by putting his neck on the line. Similarly, the final scene sees two angry drivers hurl racist insults at one another after getting into a car accident. The problem I have with this is that, as almost everyone is as bigoted as each other, it’s really hard to like or identify with any of the characters. Maybe I was a little bit spoilt by the last three films I watched, but none of the characters in Crash feel like real people and that became more apparent when I realised that I didn’t know any of their names when the film came to an end. The dialogue similarly doesn’t feel believable and there’s very little subtlety to Haggis’ words with every scene focusing on racism in some form or another. I think that this took away from the believability of the film as a whole as Haggis appeared to be more interested in the his central theme rather than his characters.

Part of the problem is that there are just too many characters in the film so it’s hard to really find someone to care about when they’re only on screen for about ten minutes. There are two exceptions to the rule, the first being Matt Dillon’s John Ryan; who’s bigotry is explained through his relationship with his sick father. Dillon, who was the only member of the cast to be Oscar-nominated, presents his character as somebody who knows that he’s a prick but at the same time tries to do right by his father. Similarly I was sympathetic to Michael Pena’s locksmith Daniel who I felt to be the only truly good-natured character amongst a bad bunch. However a lot of the characters felt two-dimensional with a specific example being the Persian shopkeeper who spends most of the film angry with those around him. What I did like about Crash was its atmospheric style with cinematographer J. Michael Muro perfectly capturing the eeriness of Los Angeles at night. Muro’s camera work is one of Crash’s most positive elements and he at least tries to make the film look as interesting as possible. The most damning thing I can say about Crash is that it didn’t really hold my attention primarily as I didn’t care about many of the characters. While I admire what Haggis was trying to do, I think the film’s message was more important to him than the characters; who simply acted as plot devices to further the themes of race. I have to say I really wanted to be one of those people who stuck up for Crash, but I’m coming round to think that maybe it didn’t deserve it’s Best Picture prize after all.


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