IMDB #217 Crash

Man oh man, readers. The other day I was thinking to myself that I haven’t disliked any of the countdown entries, not really, since Network. That’s reasonable, sure, since I’m sorting through the ostensible “top” movies of all time, but still, you can’t like everything.

Lo and behold, but what do I see at number 217? It looks like a 2004 Best Picture winning film called Crash!

Fun fact: Paul Haggis, the writer, director, and producer of Crash, thinks that you- yes, you- are a racist. Sorry, but he really does. In fact, not only does he think you’re racist, but he thinks everyone you know is racist as well, and that all you or any stranger you may encounter will ever talk about is racially charged issues, hurling epithets and reductive stereotypes all the while.

So magnanimous and epic is Haggis’ 112-minute film, I’ve decided to give the regular format amiss and recap every scene of the film, because nearly every single one teaches us an important lesson about how totally racist we all are. We’ll cover the cast and other trappings as we move along. Let’s do this!

Crash: The Most Important Movie About Race Relations Ever, Unless You’re Asian, Because Then You’re Probably Too Busy Human Trafficking To Care

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Scene 1: We open in the aftermath of a car crash. A character we’ll call Black Cop (Don Cheadle) and his partner, Latina Cop (Jennifer Esposito), have been rear-ended. Cheadle philosophically wonders if, living in L. A. as they do, where there’s no interpersonal communication, they resort to crashing into one another to feel something.

Or whatever. Latina Cop scoffs, and then gets out to yell at the other driver, an angry Asian Woman. Asian Woman claims Mexicans don’t know how to drive- Latina Cop, however, scoffs at the competency of Asian drivers, and mocks the other woman’s pronunciation of “brake,” which is of course “blake.”

This is what Crash is like. Every minute of it.

Anyway, Black Cop gets out of the car, and walks to a nearby crime scene (the cause of the traffic jam and subsequent rear-ending). There’s something in the grass by the highway. But what?

Scene 2: We then go back to “Yesterday,” as the screen title tells us. We meet Persian Shopkeeper (Shaun Toub), who is in a shop trying to purchase a gun for safety reasons, only to be called “Osama” and so forth by the white clerk, who mistakes him for an Arab.

Fortunately, Persian Daughter is there to calm him down, and after her father leaves, she takes the gun and chooses a box of red bullets to go with it.

Scene 3: We then meet two black men, whom we will refer to as Ludacris (because he's played by Ludacris) and Little Black Brother (Larenz Tate), since he's Black Cop's little brother. Anyway, they walk out of a diner, and Ludacris complains that the waitress, despite being black herself, intentionally gave them bad service because she believed they wouldn't tip well. Which he then didn't, because "am I going to tip for that kind of service."

Then, he scoffs at a passing white woman who walks closer to her husband as they near, offended at her assumption that they're thugs. Then, he and Little Brother carjack that same couple. Nice. Paul Haggis would like you to know that this is called "dramatic irony."

Scene 4: Black Cop is called to a crime scene, which boils down to this: a white undercover cop has shot a black undercover cop at a gas station. It may have been racially motivated. A shocking twist, I know.

Scene 5: The white couple that was car-jacked, it turns out, was none other than the White District Attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his High-Strung White Wife (Sandra Bullock). They're home, waiting for Latino Locksmith (Michael Pena) to finish on the door. High-Strung White Wife angrily demands that the locks be changed again tomorrow, because she thinks Latino Locksmith looks like a gangbanger or something.

White District Attorney dismisses her concerns, which only exacerbates her high-strunginess.

Scene 6: A new character, Racist White Cop (Matt Dillon), argues with his Black HMO Rep. over the phone about his father's care. He then takes out his residual anger by pulling over a black couple doing naughty things while driving.

His partner, Naive White Cop (Ryan Phillippe) looks on uncomfortably as Racist White Cop orders the couple, a Black TV Producer (Terrence Howard) and...uh.. Black TV Producer's Wife (Thandie Newton- not a lotta women have jobs in this movie), and proceeds to run his hands all over the woman in a grossly inappropriate way, which causes her to cry and her husband to meekly let it slide if they can be let go.

Scene 7: Persian Shopkeeper cannot close the door to his shop- he is convinced there is a problem with the lock. If only there were a locksmith to call...

Scene 8: Black TV Producer and his wife are now home, and she angrily berates him for doing nothing while she was molested. He discourages her from reporting the incident, then meekly claims what was he supposed to do, they were cops, etc, and then yells at her for provoking it, essentially. What? Somehow the movie seems to think that this is an equally weighted argument for the rest of the film. Let that be a lesson ladies- don't mouth off to cops, or you're just encouraging an all-too thorough pat-down (this message brought to you by Paul Haggis).

Scene 9: Latino Locksmith returns home to his daughter, who worries about bullets coming through the window, as happened in their previous home. He gives her an imaginary bullet proof cloak, which we in no way suspect will be important later, because Paul Haggis is the most subtle writer in the world.

Scene 10: Ludacris and Little Black Brother, in the stolen SUV, thoughtfully debate race relations (apparently hip hop music is music "of the oppressor" because it encourages a criminal lifestyle. C'mon, black people! You must reject this large portion of your culture entirely! Does Paul Haggis have to spell it out for you?).

Then they accidentally run over an Asian Man, who gets stuck under the car. They freak out, debate what to do (all the while referring to him as a "Chinaman") and ultimately leave him in an ER driveway and speed away. The van that Asian Man was about to get into remains by the road, the keys still in the door.

Scene 11: Naive White Cop asks his chief for a new partner. The chief, who is black, is very condescending and tells Naive White Cop that he can either apply for a solo car by pretending to have "uncontrollable flatulence" or just shut up, because it's not worth their careers to go after one racist cop in a huge, racist organization.

Scene 12: Latino Locksmith replaces Persian Shopkeeper's lock, but tells him the door still won't close because the frame needs to be replaced. Persian Shopkeeper gets irate and hardly listens, calling Latino Locksmith a liar and cheat for not fixing the problem. Latino Locksmith, fed up, throws the receipt in the trash and leaves without payment.

Scene 13: Ludacris and Little Black Brother cannot sell the stolen car to a ring of car salvagers because there's Asian Man blood in it, alas.

Scene 14: Black Cop is en flagrante with Latina Cop when the phone rings- it's his mother, and he begs off by telling her he has to go, as he's having sex with a white woman. Latina Cop is miffed, and he explains that "Mexican" wouldn't have upset his mother as much. She angrily informs him that her parents hail from Puerto Rico and El Salvador (Jennifer Esposito is, in fact, Italian in ancestry), neither of which is Mexico. This leads to this comeback from Black Cop:

"Well then I guess the big mystery is, who gathered all those remarkably different cultures together and taught them all how to park their cars on their lawns?"

Paul Haggis and co-screenwriter Robert Moresco probably high-fived in jubilation after coming with that one. One of them probably said "Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, here we come!"

And they were right.

Scene 15: Racist White Cop (who we don't care for at all, remotely) tries to help his ailing father in the bathroom.

Scene 16: Persian Shopkeeper finds his store burgled. Oh no!

Scene 17: White District Attorney is told of the white on black, undercover cop shooting. He determines at some point in here to go after the white cop to recover his image with the black community, after being car-jacked by two black guys.

Scene 18: Ludacris lectures Little Black Brother about how they're cool 'cause they steal from whites, but blacks who steal from other blacks are just petty crooks. Also his car breaks down and he refuses to take the bus. Because the bus is racist, somehow.

Scene 19: High-Strung White Wife takes out her residual car-jacking anger on her Latina Maid, telling her the dishes aren't clean, or put away (sheesh!).

Scene 20: Black TV Producer is at work on some tv show, when some dude (played by Tony Danza!) expresses concerns that the black character isn't "talking black" enough. Black TV Producer is troubled, but backs down once again and tells the young actor to ebonic it up for the next take.

Scene 21: Racist White Cop goes to his Black HMO Rep. in person to plead for his father (who apparently, used to employ black folks as janitors so he totally deserves treatment!). But he can't stop his inner racist from going on a rant about affirmative action, and how there were five white dudes who are better qualified for her job, and she calls security and declines to help him (though she does imply she could have helped if he wasn't a douche, because we all know low level HMO employees can totally reverse policy decisions and a doctor's diagnosis).

Scene 22: Persian Shopkeeper calls the locksmith company, angrily blaming Latino Locksmith for the robbery and demanding his name. No dice, they say, since he was told there was a door problem, not just a lock problem.

Scene 23: Black Cop visits his mom, who is of course a junkie. She asks after Little Black Brother, but who knows where he is? Also, Latina Cop tells us that Internal Affairs found something about the shooting case.

Scene 24: Black TV Producer's Wife visits her husband on set, and for some reason apologizes to him! What the eff? But he angrily storms off!

Wives, huh? They never understand how seeing them sexually assaulted makes us feel.

Scene 25: Persian Shopkeeper is denied insurance coverage because he was warned of the door thing. He reacts to this with uncharacteristic calm. (Uncharacteristic of his character, I mean. Not all Persians are irrationally belligerent, I'm sure. Oh, wait, damn- I'm being politcally correct. Haggis would say that means I secretly hate jews!).

Scene 26: Naive White Cop has claimed the fake flatulence for his transfer. Racist White Cop tells him "You think you know who you are. You have no idea." Oooh, all meaningful and stuff. Funny that Crash's official tagline would be spoken by arguably the least likable character (and that that role would be the only one to garner an Oscar nomination).

Scene 27: A brief montage, as Black Cop finds money in the boot of a car (which means the undercover black cop that got shot dead was shadier than thought), and Persian Shopkeeper simmers, before getting the locksmith's receipt out of the trash (which presumably has Latino Locksmith's home address on it for some reason?).

Scene 28: A heavily scored sequence, as Racist White Cop sees an accident, and discovers Black TV Producer's Wife trapped in an upside-down car! There is gas on the ground and the other car is on fire!

He quickly goes to help her out, but she screams and clamors for "anyone else" to help upon recognizing him. Talking to her like a child, he says he needs to get her out of the car because no one else is there yet. She agrees, and the gas catches on fire, and officers arriving pull Racist White Cop out. But he runs back in to save her, and pulls her free! Then, kaboom.

As paramedics lead Black TV Producer's Wife away, she looks back at Racist White Cop significantly. Racist White Cop looks awed by what has transpired, this insanely contrived series of coincidences we call life (or terrible, terrible writing). From now on, he will be known as Redeemed Racist White Cop!

Scene 29: Black Cop meets with representatives of the D. A., who want to put the white cop that shot the undercover black cop away for shooting with extreme racism. Black Cop points out that the undercover black cop had $300,000 in his car and was probably on crack, and thus perhaps provoked the shooting.

This leads to an epic speech from the D. A.'s main flunky (who is white), who literally says "F*cking black people, huh?" twice in the process of trying to commiserate with Black Cop. Yeah.

They offer Black Cop a deal- make the $300,000 go away so they can play PC knights for the public, and they'll wipe Little Black Brother's record of the car-stealing (and current warrant), and give him a new job! Black Cop looks troubled, but signs on.

Scene 30: Persian Shopkeeper waits outside Latino Locksmith's house, gun in tow. Uh-oh.

Scene 31: Another bravura sequence as Ludacris and Little Black Brother try to car-jack Black TV Producer, who picks this moment to grow a spine, fights them both, and somehow ends up driving away with Ludacris in his passenger seat, two cop cars in pursuit. He even takes Ludacris's gun in his indignant black rage!

He pulls over, and gets out to shout at the (all white) cops incoherently about being a man and stuff. Freakin' cops! Don't they know he's had a rough couple of days?

One of the cops is Naive White Cop, and he recognizes the guy from yesterday and convinces no one to shoot. They let Black TV Producer go, and he lets Ludacris go (after telling him "You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself."). Whew.

Scene 32: Our third mad-cap action sequence follows, as Persian Shopkeeper brandishes his gun at Latino Locksmith when he gets home, demanding recompense for his shop. Latino Locksmith's adorable daughter runs out to protect her father, since she's got the bullet proof cloak (remember?) and he doesn't.

But the gun goes off! But wait, she's unhurt? Wha? All involved are dumbfounded.

Scene 33: Black Cop drops off some groceries for his mom.

Scene 34: High-Strung White Wife complains to her friend that she's just angry all the time (it's not even about being car-jacked, she says. It's almost as if she takes her own aggressions out on other ethnicities!). Then she falls down the stairs.

After the previous explosion, car chase/standoff, and not-shooting of a child, it's not really that dramatic.

Scene 35: Naive White Cop (off duty, in his own car) picks up Little Black Brother, who's hitch-hiking after the failed car-jacking. They make awkward small talk, until Little Black Brother sees a toy statue of St. Anthony on Naive White Cop's dashboard and laughs (he has that same statue himself!). But Naive White Cop thinks he's laughing at him, and asks him to leave the car.

Instead of simply saying that he has that same statue, Little Black Brother gets angry himself, and reaches inside his jacket while loudly saying "I'll SHOW you what I'm laughing about!" So Naive White Cop shoots him.

Panicking, he dumps the body by the road and flees the scene.

Scene 36: We catch up with the beginning, as we see Black Cop in the field, finding his dead brother! And after all he did to help him, condemning an innocent man and everything. Snap!

Scene 37: Ludacris, now riding one of those racist buses, sees the long-forgotten Asian Man's van, still with the key in the door. He drives it away to sell it for cash.

Scene 38: That same Asian Man is finally found at the hospital by his wife, Asian Woman (the one from the very beginning that said "blake" and stuff! Funny that the only two Asians in the film are a couple. It's a small, racist world we live in.) He tells her to immediately cash a check in his wallet. Hmm?

Scene 39: Ludacris arrives at the car-selling place to discover humans in the back of the van, chained up and waiting to be sold! Oh, token Asians. Always selling your own kind for profit. The nefarious car-buying-dude offers to buy the people from Ludacris, but he looks troubled.

Scene 40: Black Cop takes his mother to identify her other son's dead body. She angrily blames him for the tragedy, for not doing enough to find Little Black Brother. Then she credits the dead brother for bringing the groceries from Scene 33.

Scene 41: Persian Shopkeeper, still stunned, tells Persian Daughter that that little girl he not-shot must be his guardian angel or something. His daughter hugs him, and goes to put the gun with the blanks (blanks! in the red box all along. Oh you clever Paul Haggis, you).

Scene 42: High-Strung White Wife calls her husband and tells him she sprained her ankle in the fall- the only person she could reach to help her was, of course, Latina Maid. Even her friend of ten years couldn't come help because she was getting a massage.

White folks, right?

Scene 43: Wrapping things up in a montage set to Best Original Song nominee "In The Deep," we see Naive White Cop burning his car to get rid of the evidence.

Clearly he has seen the world now, and is no longer Naive White Cop, but Cop Who Now Knows Who He Is, Having Previously Merely Thought He Knew Who He Was.

Redeemed Racist White Cop comforts his father, White District Attorney looks out the window, Black Cop finds his brother's statue at the crime scene...

Scene 44: Finally, Black TV Producer, who has somehow been unaware that his wife nearly died in a car wreck this entire time, watches children play around the car fire and thinks. His wife calls, and he picks up and says "I love you"- she smiles, and he smiles, so problems = resolved!

Scene 45: Ludacris frees the Asian people, not without making a few culturally insensitive cracks about chop suey and all.

Then, right before the credits, we see Black HMO Rep. get in a fender bender as well (more Crash-ing, eh?), and be all racist to the Asian driver that hit her. The cycle of life.

Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Lower? It should be buried. DVDs of Crash should be treated with less reverence than free AOL trial CDs. Stop renting it on Netflix, stop giving it high votes on imdb, stop telling people it's brilliant.

You notice that I went nearly this entire entry without mentioning this film's completely flabbergasting victory over Brokeback Mountain. This is because beyond being the culprit in one of the most inexcusably ridiculous upsets in Oscar history, Crash is just a pure piece of pretentiously patronizing putridity all on its own.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Wow, what a terrible film. I'll just leave you with a couple of links: One to the entry for Crash in Videogum's Search for the Worst Movie of All Time (this being the only film their entries and my list have in common), and another to a short piece on McSweeney's that sums up Crash in a few simple lines.

13 Response to "IMDB #217 Crash"

  1. Graeme says:

    not sure why you go to all the trouble of listing all the scenes if you thought it was such a worthless movie? Personally, I thought it was pretty good with some amazingly powerful scenes (e.g. the little girl getting "shot". Not sure if it deserved the Oscar for that year, but for me, a very memorable movie.

    Graeme says:

    PS. Great idea to review the Top 250 movies - what a brilliant project


    Truth be told, I'd probably be a lot less bothered if Crash had indeed not won an Academy Award for Best Picture (but would it then be in the top 250?).

    I guess I listed all the scenes because the sheer number of seemingly "random" moments in various Angelinos' lives that deal directly with racism is just astounding. I was looking to demonstrate the main reason I don't like Crash, which is its hilariously overdone single-mindedness.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Hilarious review. I'm not one to say a movie is overrated because I understand that everyone has different tastes, but this is one of the few exceptions to my rule. Crash is one of the most disgustingly awful movies I have ever seen.

    Thanks rhymnocerous.

    Bad movies are one thing, but bad movies that everyone loves are worse. What are the other exceptions to your rule? Mine is pretty much just this and The Reader, among Best Picture nominees.

    Sometimes it's hard for me to tell if the acclaim colors my perception: Little Miss Sunshine I think wouldn't bother me so much if I just saw it without knowing anything about it. But Crash I know would transcend any such filters. It's just terrible.

    Teddy says:

    I completely agree with this review, although incredibly sarcastic, really hamfisted its message to the viewer. I would say that scene 35 is one of the stupidest scenes in history and completely disgusted me. I gave the movie a chance but once that scene hit me I noticed how ridiculous the movie was. Yes just for the sake of it lets have the most innocent nice cop in the movie kill a black guy cause black guys are suspicious and must have guns! Complete rubbish this film was

    Thanks Teddy- the real crazy part is, aside from maybe a half dozen snide comments, all I really did was recap Crash while changing everyone's name to "Black Cop" or whatever. Because that's the real aggravating part of the movie- it's supposed to be an engaging treatise on racism, but it defines every character by their race so thoroughly that it's absurd.

    Tom Clift says:

    Good piece! What a stupid, racist film - and what a waste of an excellent cast.

    Thanks Tom! My friend and occasional Kinematoscope contributor Dave was thinking about a feature that would spotlight great casts in terrible films (inspired by "Killshot") for which "Crash" would be an obvious archetype.

    MrJeffery says:

    Thanks for your writeup! Intense. I almost walked out of 'Crash' but stuck with it to its very convoluted conclusion hoping it would get better (and this was way before the Academy made its extremely disappointing choice). I thought the film dealt with racial issues in a very ham-fisted way. Racial issues are much uglier and more below the surface than what's portrayed in this film. It tries to tackle too much. I wonder if the film would have been more complex if written from the perspective of a person of color. I find the film insulting to most people's intelligence. The acting too was terrible except for Dillon, who I thought was natural.

    Yojimbo_5 says:

    Yeah. You fall into the trap that everybody falls into about "Crash:" assuming it's about racism and not about having the cojones to "do the right thing," rather than..."what can I do with the least amount ot effort to 'get by' and 'get away with it.'" You can't just criticize the 'race" part and ignore the other sub-plots.

    See, it's not just about race...that's the easy part to see in this movie (when you're looking for it)'s also about strata in societies, jobs, government branches, people with power against people with none...that's the problem the film is addressing, but everybody in the film wants to hang their hats on the race peg. The funny part of it all is that folks criticizing the movie reflexively do the same thing, thus validating the movie's premise. I've always loved this irony. And the replies I get when I point this out usually amount to defensive nonsense.

    "The White Ribbon" does exactly the same thing and it is championed, but the "I hate hate hate 'Crash'" sentiment gets accepted without argument.

    Yojimbo, I will certainly grant that it's about other things, but there is not a one of those things or subplots that is not also ham-fisted and overwrought.

    Let's run a few down: HMO's are just trying to scam you, The DA's office is corrupt, the police are corrupt, Cheadle's mother is not proud of him at all, Bullock is angry all the time, um...others, I'm sure. But there's no depth to any of them, and every single extended monlogue in the film is racially charged in some way (to quote William Fichtner, "f*cking black people, huh?"). These other issues you claim are addressed, they seem hardly more than mentioned in passing to me.

    But if Crash's premise is designed to trick us into missing some very important thematic issues by constantly throwing racist melodrama in our faces, then... good job?

    Also I refuse to see The White Ribbon because I took a big dislike to Haneke's Caché, but I suspect I would not care for it based on the trailer.

    Yojimbo_5 says:

    You mis-represented my argument (which is fine), but I'm talking about strata of people that has nothing to do with race, but about power...inside the police department, inside the DA's office, out on the street. Power perceived or real.

    I'll leave it at that, as you won't be convinced. And as far as "The White Ribbon," your loss.

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