posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2005

First of all, where did this movie come from? When a reader recommended it to me last week, I?d never heard of it before?I thought he was talking about the Cronenberg film. But it?s been out for almost six weeks now and has made $40 million at the box office (on a budget of $6.5 million). Looks to me it?s one of those films where Hollywood finally does something right and they don?t want to tell anyone about it.

I seem to be on a roll with movies lately?first Revenge of the Sith, then Primer, and now I really liked Crash. Reminded me a lot of Soderbergh?s Traffic crossed with P.T. Anderson?s Magnolia. At first, Crash seems to be about racism, but I think what Don Cheadle?s character had to say in the opening scene is closer to what it?s actually about:

I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into one another just to feel something.

He?s talking about cars in that scene, but it easily applies to the locks, guns, gated & segregated communities, money, racial epithets, and power structures we see in the rest of the film, all the technology, money, and power that people use to keep themselves safe but really just make things worse. From an interview with director Paul Haggis about the film:

It?s an odd life we live in Los Angeles, a city that uses freeways and wide boulevards to divide people by race and class. We spend most of our time encased in metal and glass; in our homes, our cars, at work. Unlike any real city, we only walk where ?it?s safe?-those outdoor malls and ersatz city blocks we?ve created to feel like we?re still part of humanity, if only humanity could afford to shop where we do. We no longer truly feel the touch of strangers as we brush past them on the street.

Something tells me Jane Jacobs and James Kunstler would love this film.

Reader comments

Mike AparicioJun 06, 2005 at 9:17AM

I was thinking Magnolia too, except they replaced the frogs with snowflakes. Very similar to Amores Perros too.

SamJun 06, 2005 at 9:49AM

I also loved the movie, but I did think that the writer tried too hard to include every type of person just to prove it was everyone’s fault. He could have made the same point with half the cast. That being said, I think everyone needs to see this movie.

amyJun 06, 2005 at 10:17AM

i loved this movie, too. it was incredible, suspenseful, unexpected (but expected at the same time), gritty, and just… real.

NicholasJun 06, 2005 at 10:17AM

I also thought this movie was great, and I agree with your assesment of it as far as plot goes. What I kept trying to figure out, and am still trying to figure out, is whether or not there was someone that was trying to correct it, and innocent if you will. Someone who throughout the film was not trying to close himself/herself off.

Brian GilhamJun 06, 2005 at 10:46AM

I think the locksmith’s daughter fits that bill fairly nicely. I love the scene where she gets “shot” and the father is screaming…almost made me want to cry.

Dan MeyerJun 06, 2005 at 10:48AM

Nah, this is Magnolia-lite, a threadbare human tapestry with everyone defined by racism’s affect/effect, everyone linked as only a screenwriter could contrive (the nurse tending to Cheadle’s brother is the Persian shopkeep’s blah blah etc). Crash looks like it says loads, like it’s Telling It Like It Is, but It, for Haggis, is that Racism Lives, a first-draft thesis that all the moody spiritual chorals in the world can’t make profound. You’re right, though: intellectually, the movie peaks in the first minute with Cheadle’s monologue. Too bad the rest of the film plunges off into an increasingly banal direction.

JgJun 06, 2005 at 11:17AM

The line of Cheadle’s that you quoted — I don’t think he’s exactly talking about a car crash, or at least what I gathered was that maybe this was something long on his mind, and the fender bender that opens the movie just gives him an opportunity to vocalize it. As the movie goes into flashback mode after this scene, you see just how much has led up to it, which lends a little weight to this perception.

That said, I can’t say I liked the movie. I appreciated parts of it, but I have to agree with Dan about the overabundence of coincidence. That’s only one thing that dragged it down; what really killed it for me was the sense that every scene was playing out to make the same point over and over and over again, that we treat each other differently based on skin color, etc., whatever. Hammer, hammer, hammer that point home, Haggis.

Ultimately this just felt like a very, very long educational film, like the alcohol awareness movies they showed in assembly in high school. When you watch it, imagine each scene freezing at its close, and a man in a suit stepping out in front of the screen to say, “Now, who can tell me what is wrong with this scenario?”

But my biggest complaint: after an almost elegant opening credits sequence and the first scene, the flashback kicks off with the word YESTERDAY, set in a blocky, chunky, ugly-ass font that reminds me of Impact, the MS Windows standard. So yeah, maybe you can disregard all of my arguments, since I’m just pissed off about the typography.

MauraJun 06, 2005 at 11:23AM

It had its moments (my favorite was when the locksmith was talking to his daughter under the bed), but in regards to the reviews I read before seeing it, I felt it was a little overrated.

john beelerJun 06, 2005 at 11:52AM

Interesting. I had the impression, after reading over metacritic, that the reviewers either hated or loved this film (the majority hating it). I walked in with low expectations - and loved it.

It’s cliched, but I don’t think that many reviewers “got” it. The NPR reviewer called it condescending and one dimensional. Granted, it _is_ all about racism; but the beauty of Crash is that it embraces the inherent complexity of racism. I wonder if some of these reviewers even watched the movie to the end. The final scene is clearly a celebration of the complexity, when we have two people being racist and un-racist at the same exact time.

steveJun 06, 2005 at 12:12PM

I enjoyed this movie, but couldn’t help but feel it was overly ambitious with its subplots, or the number of them. I guess it’s hard to tackle racism with one film; many of the scenes were blatant about it to the point where it wasn’t quite believable.

Paul SantosJun 06, 2005 at 12:17PM

I was hoping that there would be more car scenes, but Ludacris had me rolling…that cat spits the illest lines, no matter what!

-Paul Santos

Jeff WheelerJun 06, 2005 at 12:34PM

Strange, I haven’t heard of this either. Looks like a really good movie, but I’m surprised they haven’t advertised much.

DaveJun 06, 2005 at 12:37PM

Hmm never even heard of this movie let alone seen in.. guess i’ll look out for it sounds good from what you’ve said though

RobinJun 06, 2005 at 12:57PM

I thought the movie was overrated. Scenes like the one with the rookie cop and the movie director in the cul-de-sac were implausible. The director’s wife, that entire subplot, was also implausible. The last 20 minutes of the movie were ruined by the score. Until that part of the movie the score suspended any doubts of reality by being quiet and letting the audience inside the movie. It reminded me of a Michael Mann movie with the action being more haunting by the minimal sound of the score.

SpikeJun 06, 2005 at 1:30PM

The Cronenburg Film is utterly sensational, by the way - don’t be fooled by the risqué sounding topic, it really is very, very good.

florianJun 06, 2005 at 1:53PM

Why do we get so little opportunities to comment on Kottke.org ???

RyanJun 06, 2005 at 1:57PM

To me, it was one of those rare films that made me really happy to be living in Los Angeles when I left the theatre. Haggis’s quoted comments about the odd life we live here were dead on, and his use of doors and cars throughout the film impressed me.

This is a town full of contradictions and stereotypes. I’m moving back to the east coast soon, and I can’t predict how much I’ll miss it.

AndreJun 06, 2005 at 2:09PM

I have to back up Robin and Dan Meyer — this movie unrelentingly beat me about the head and torso with its message, and I don’t like that kind of heavy-handedness. Very much a Magnolia/Traffic/Amores Perros-light.

On a positive note, Ludacris was a much better actor than I’d expected.

PeteJun 06, 2005 at 2:10PM

Overrated film. I had watched a clip of the scene of the locksmith talking to his daughter under her bed, and found the scene to be extremely touching and well-written. So I came into the theater with high hopes, but unfortunately, like someone earlier said, the movie peaks intellectually at the first minute. It’s almost as if Haggis wrote the entire movie based off of the impressive poignancy of Don Cheadle’s character’s line, hoping that it would change the world.

Unfortunately, it did not.

Although there were still some great moments, there were way too many cliches here. In the beginning of the movie, a cop says to Cheadle’s character: “I hear it’s supposed to snow tonight.” “Are you kidding me?” “That’s what I hear.” …And sure enough, in the cheesiest, most cliched movie ending Haggis could have written, it snows in Los Angeles, prompting people to get out of their cars and look at the sky in awe. Barf!

ToombsJun 06, 2005 at 2:45PM

It’s not bad. Does try to do to much at times but it has some really good scenes in it. The snowing at the end was a little much for me as well.

On the topic of good movies coming out. Just saw High Tension last week on DVD, uncut with subtitles. It’s coming out in the US on June 10, with 1 min edited out to get a ‘R’ rating. It’s a fantastically gory horror movie. Check it out if you like horror movies, plus it has a twist at the end. Isn’t that fun.

BrianJun 06, 2005 at 4:05PM

Actually, the film didn’t really come out of nowhere. The writer/director, Paul Haggis, also wrote Million Dollar Baby.

GodsMoonJun 06, 2005 at 5:17PM

I love this film I think it was the best film I’ve seen in quite some time. It addresses real issues like love, hate, and where we fit in.

Jeff RickardJun 06, 2005 at 5:56PM

93 out of 100 is an awfully high rating; this film will not go down as one of the great movies of all time. If you were to eliminate the interconnectedness of the characters, you would deride the movie has one dimensional, but it seems folks fall for the gimmick…

Daniel BurnsJun 06, 2005 at 10:35PM

My girlfriend and I were really not feeling this move either.

The whole time I was thinking, “This is like Traffic, this is like Traffic… oh and here is Don Cheadle, an actor from Traffic. And what do we have here? A little PT Anderson! How cute!”

Directors have been copying other directors since the first film was made. This is not what I take issue with. I take issue with the fact that Haggis did it in such a lame-ass way. He simply didn’t inject enough of himself into this film.

Yeah, I really wanted to like this movie and there were definitely parts I liked, particularly Ludacris’ role.

Afterwards, however, I wanted my money back.

David KasparJun 07, 2005 at 5:39AM

Not to be confused with the other crash movie :-)


zeyJun 07, 2005 at 12:50PM

I liked it also and your it reminded me heavily of Magnolia. Traffic not as much but similar to the multiple story plotline.

JoeJun 08, 2005 at 12:07AM

This is one of those rare movies where I was pretty engrossed while watching it… but the more I thought about afterwards, the more I disliked it. Most of the racial tensions / slurs are forced and contrived. I didn’t feel like any of them would naturally come out in every day conversation. And I’m a native of Los Angeles.

Also, in a film that appears to be all about exploring race in depth, you would think Asians would FINALLY get a break in this movie (i.e. be portrayed as *Americans* and not FOBs). Every race / ethnicity in this movie had negative stereotypes, and positive / redeeming characters to balance it out. Oh wait, except the Asians! Thank you, once again Hollywood. The two main Asian characters (who have little screen time to begin with) are portrayed as annoying FOBs, and their storyline ends on a negative note for them. The other Asians are literally FOBs who are illegal immigrants. There is only one other Asian character who “balances” this portrayal out - the insurance guy who tells the Persians that insurance won’t cover the store break-in. He has like what, 30 seconds of screen time? Hardly a consolation.

I’d be interested to hear what other people’s take on this is.

samJun 08, 2005 at 1:04AM

I liked the movie, but the scene with the rookie cop (regarding his encounter with the hitch-hiker) played really false to me. While the other characters’ actions seemed plausible, that section seemed contrived and manipulative.

StaciaJun 10, 2005 at 4:47PM

I had no idea what this film was about when I saw it last weekend. I thought it was *interesting* more than I thought it was *good*. I hear some folks here claiming the film is cliched—perhaps it is cliched if you watch too much Chappelle’s Show because he’s the only other person of color with anything intersting to say about race in America.

I like that it pointed out how racist we all are in our own way. And I’m so glad there wasn’t one Arab in the whole thing. I thought adding a Jew would have been wise. My favorite line was Don Cheaddle calling his partner Mexican and his further statement about Latinos parking their cars on their lawns. I think it’s so good for the audience to see a black man saying a racist thing against a Lainta woman. We have got to learn to laugh at each other.

I thought that Cheaddle’s line about crashing into each other and then the film ending with another rear-end crash was the lamest metaphor I’ve heard in a long time. I totally agree with the person who said it felt like the movie was written around that one line (and concept). I did like how solutions are not put forth—race is something we just have to deal with.

It could have been a much better movie, but I hope that the average person (I assume that kottke readers are slightly above average) watches it and learns something about themselves.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.