I've been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Next on my list was the 2005 winner, Crash, directed by Paul Haggis and starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and Thandie Newton.
Crash is a drama that interweaves the stories of families who live in different neighborhoods of Los Angeles over the course of two days. The undercurrent of the film is an examination of race relations and the role of socioeconomics and culture in social interactions.
The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Good Night, and Good Luck; and Munich. In addition to Best Picture, Crash also won Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
Crash has "important movie" written all over it, which must have made it cotton candy to Oscar voters. Certainly, it does deal with important issues to American culture. In the emotionally-wrought first years after the 9/11 attacks, tension between cultures within America came to the forefront, and the script was, not surprisingly, written in 2001. Now, nearly a decade after this movie was made (it was released in 2004), its messages seem heavy-handed and pedantic.
Not that there isn't plenty to praise in Crash. The talented cast, which includes Matt Dillon as a racist police officer, do their best with the lines given to them. The cinematography is gorgeous, the editing flawless. And there are moments, which I won't spoil here, that are both surprising and moving without feeling manipulative.
As the title suggests, these characters collide in primarily unpleasant ways, including an African-American TV producer and his wife, the aforementioned cop, a Hispanic locksmith who's also a single dad, a Muslim storekeeper and his family, and two down-on-their-luck young African-American men who turn to carjacking. In fact, the movie was partially inspired by director Haggis being carjacked, himself. The characters' interactions, primarily in the first half of the film, are characterized more by misunderstandings and prejudices than by any real connection. Only when their lives smack brutally into each other do they begin to get real.
Unfortunately, even these moments of truth are clouded by PC language, simplistic poetic justice, and emotional manipulation. This might be why it was the lowest-grossing Best Picture Oscar-winner since 1987's The Last Emperor. While it won an Oscar, over the more politically troublesome frontrunner, Brokeback Mountain, Crash is likely to be remembered more for its ambitions than for what it really brought to the screen.
Rating: *** (3 out of 5 stars)
Message movies impress Oscar voters, if not movie goers.