Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Crash Landing

I know, it’s probably some sort of job-related crime, working where I work, that I hadn’t seen the Best Picture winner until a week or so after the Oscars. But, I finally caught up with it, and I’ve got a theory:

Race is the new Holocaust.

To clarify: For years, if there was a film about the Holocaust in any given category, it was going to win the Oscar. Period. That’s just the way it went. And that’s fine. Many of them were good, they were all worth making—it was a corner of history that lay unilluminated for far too long. But some of them also got by on the sheer emotional impact of the Holocaust without doing the filmmaking heavy-lifting required to actually be a good movie.

And now, I think race relations in this country is starting to be examined in much the same way. (And, I firmly believe, if someone ever manages to make a film, a great film, about the Middle Passage, it’ll change lives, much in the way that Roots did.)

So Crash won the Oscar. And it’s not a good film. Well-intentioned, I suppose, but still not good. It’s a movie populated by complex cariactures that do and say things that defy reality. To wit:
  • Don Cheadle’s detective has enough of a relationship with his hottie partner to not only bring her to the coroner to identify his brother’s body, but to sleep with her. Then, he calls her, essentially, a dirty Mexican (knowing, as one who must’ve spent hundreds of hours in a squad car with her, that she’s Puerto Rican). But he’s a good guy, because he buys his junkie mom groceries.
  • An employee of the Los Angeles DA’s office says to Cheadle’s detective (who, by the way, he needs something from), “That’s what’s wrong with you black people.” Who the hell says that? Out loud? Outside of a Klan rally?
  • It’s not enough for Matt Dillon’s character to be a racist sexual offender, but he’s also gotta be a saint who rescues a woman from a burning car…and helps his dad piss at night.
  • Terrence Howard’s TV director tries to make up for being emasculated at the hands of the LAPD by leading two squad cars on a high-speed pursuit and then, taking the gun from his would-be carjacker, trying to goad them into shooting him. Why? Because, apparently, he just got incredibly, mysteriously stupid.
The plot holes are just as bad. The Persian shopkeeper who, by his own admission, can’t read, tracks the hispanic locksmith back to his home…through the phone book. Sandra Bullock, a rich woman who probably had her very expensive hardwood flooring buffed to within a millimeter of weapons-grade optics, doesn’t know better than to walk through her house with socks on…just so she can take a tumble down the stairs.

And the insistence that every character, in some fashion or another, be intricately connected to every other character smacks of bad romantic comedy. Remember Serendipity, when John Cusack never hooks up with Kate Beckinsale because he keeps missing her in elevators and taxis and planes? Turning an incredibly lazy plot device on its ear doesn’t make it better, just different.

There’s some decent acting in Crash, especially from Ludacris and Larenz Tate, but it’s real problem is its abject failure to resemble reality. A film about a topic as real as race that exists in a concocted fantasy version of reality teaches no lessons, imparts no wisdom, forces no one to examine themselves and their own feelings. It does little but, conversely, allow people to feel safe in the knowledge that They Are Not As Bad As Matt Dillon.

And that doesn’t do anyone any good.

1 comment:

Stephen Benson said...

yup. the middle passage would sear people's souls. but then there's the old question "who'll buy a ticket to get his soul seared?" when at a movie like crash i always walk away feeling like i should have appreciated it more than i did. i love don cheadle, and agree with your assesment of the character. i know they were trying to humanize the matt dillon character and stuff. a key thing for me in how it was a bad movie is that when i recall it i don't see past the actors. i know don cheadle, sandra, matt, terrence, larenz (been a fave of mine for a long time), thandie et al were in the movie but i can't tell you a single character's name. i never got past the identity of the actor and into the character they were portraying. you're on to something with your new holocaust. maybe in about five years gay will be the new racism.