Crash — Directed by Paul Haggis. Detective Story. A fender bender leads to a web of universal bigotry. 112 minutes Color 2004.
* * * *
Anger is an emotion easy for actors to access, and this film registers as blatantly misdirected from so much of it being allowed them, anger, anger, anger, Venetian-blinded with tears, another easy access for actors. This is too bad, because it makes the film hermetic, self-congratulatory, and monotonous, or rather bi-tonous. Thandie Newton is clearly an excellent and well-trained actress, but she is allowed both expressions to a degree which cancels out her role quite nicely; fury added to the lachrymose equals nothing, because either one subtracts the other, either concurrently or sequentially, that is, either in a given scene or in scene by scene. Crash is written and directed by white males, who seem mightily pleased with themselves for having essayed the subject of bigotry out loud, and I do not know whether this causes the picture’s scenes with the black actors to fail, but they do —with the one exception of Terrence Howard’s, and for a very good reason, that being that he allows his character to bring a degree of modulation into the playing. There is only one actor who should be allowed tears in this film, and that is Beverly Todd, playing the mother of a slaughtered son. And there are only two characters who should be allowed out-and-out anger in this story, and neither one of them are angry because of bigotry but because they were born angry. The second of them is the storeowner played by Shaun Toub who is brilliantly horrible as a stupid berserk patriarch illiterate. The first is Sandra Bullock whose rage should set a tone which should never be duplicated again in the picture, but modulated and pulled underground by the actors, to make visual what the story actually tells which is that everyone is overtly or secretly a bigot. The scene in which the Don Cheadle character is offered a job in return for shutting up about a certain cop-slaying is a scene played with an excellent actor, William Fitchner, who simply is misdirected to play for excitement or insensitivity, whereas something else would be much more interesting, sympathy, for instance, o=r “Will you offended by what I am about to say?” As it is, we immediately take sides against him, which loses the conflict and thus loses the scene. Over and over again the direction causes the material to fall back in on itself, no more noticeably than when the music stoops to soften us up at the end with a dictatorial sentimentality. Because the film is essentially well written, the execution needed to be more subtle than glaring – after all, bigotry has already been put forth: Elia Kazan made Pinky way back when – and so all we get as our allowed response is “Aint it awful,” but, in fact, sadness and sympathy are not enough. Everyone’s done good? Nah. They have, but smugness is the wrong thing to end up with. Sandra Bullock’s playing is a miracle of impenitence, but she ends up in the arms of her Hispanic maid, saying, “You’re my only friend,” when the fact is that the maid would have many friends, of whom the Sandra Bullock character still knows and wishes to know nothing, while Sandra Bullock’s character unbeknownst to Bullock, is not one of the maid’s friends at all. It won Oscars that year for Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Film, and many other awards from other awarders. Matt Dillon did not win best supporting actor Oscar, but his moments while saving from a burning car while he’s lying on top of her a woman whom he has molested are remarkable in this actors long, underestimated, and remarkable career. Michael Peña is excellent as the locksmith whom Shaun Toub is too incensed to make sense of. The picture is worth seeing for its diction and for the modesty of most of its cast, insofar as they were allowed it: Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, and many others.