As much as I hate to admit it, more often than not I talk about movies that I’ve never seen (because let’s face it, we all do). Personally, this was the case with Crash (Paul Haggins, 2004), the movie that for the past decade has been considered on of the biggest Oscar snubs ever (EVER), winning Best Picture the year Brokeback Mountain was meant to win all the awards. For the past few years I had been repeating over and over that Brokeback Mountain should have won the well-deserved best picture award because of the homophobic mentality of most of its voters. Anyway, since I’m a film student I thought it would be a good idea to watch Crash because perhaps I was being unfair and the movie wasn’t so bad after all and I was wrong… well, it turns out I wasn’t.
For those who are not completely familiar with the plot, the film is built around different stories of people from different neighborhoods, income and race, in Los Angeles, and about the problems of coexistence and survival.
Ironically (actually no, that was the reason I watched the film this week) Bobby Moresco, producer and screenwriter of Crash, attended my production class yesterday and our professor told us to have some questions ready for him. My main question was “do you really think that was the best movie of the year? Like the BEST?”. I obviously didn’t ask this because…obviously.
But now let’s be serious. I also wanted to ask “what is in your opinion the theme of the movie” because I thought that I just didn’t get the hidden meaning, I mean, it could not be just about “love thy neighbor”. Well, it turns out I was wrong, yet again. Crash is a movie about accepting people who are different from you. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it, after all, here I am, living in the United States. I’m also very interested in films that focus on human incommunication and, on this matter, Moresco made a very good point: L.A is not like New York, where you live in buildings and have to deal with your neighbors; in L.A you can go on with your routine without ever meeting the people around you, and maybe the only occasion to meet them is when you crash (he obviously said it in a more gracious way, after all he won the Oscar for best screenplay for this movie). What I mean is that of course films have to tackle these topics (I think it should be the main reason to make movies in the first place), but they have to be subtler. Films are not commercials, the theme has to be shaped by the story, not the other way around.
In my opinion, this is a story about an idea, “respect”, “acceptance”, “communication” … but the different plots, that were meant to carry that story, are not developed enough to make them powerful. It is impossible to feel empathy for a character you’ve only seen for 5 minutes, you don’t know them enough. There’s always the argument that minimal stories can be powerful, and I totally agree (I love Kiarostami, the master of minimal stories), but the stories are treated in such a superficial way that they become insignificant.
Perhaps if the screenwriters had focused on one or two stories they could have sent a stronger message, after all, less is more, and shaping a simpler storyline would have given the characters the time they deserved to evolve. I’m not saying the movie is awful, because it has some great elements. I really liked the characters, they felt real and raised challenging issues (personally my favorite subplot was the conflict between the Persian shop owner and the Latino locksmith). However, some of them were plain and superficial and brought nothing new to our screens and our lives (yes, I’m talking to you Sandra Bullock). I feel like the Bullock/Fraser subplot was just a pretext to appeal audiences with star power… the story of the racist rich white woman who realizes her Latino maid is her closest friend is not new, and certainly Crash didn’t go any further than that.
In a completely different field, the direction of photography was outstanding, and I’m surprised it wasn’t even nominated for best cinematography. I believe the photography is the key element that made the difference between a bad tv movie and an Oscar-quality film.
So, like a bad character in Crash, I haven’t evolved, my opinion hasn’t changed. Academy voters (80 something white males) had to choose between a controversial film about homosexual cowboys in 1960’s America or an inspirational movie about how we all must learn to love each other, regardless of race. Crash was the easy option, but not necessarily the best.