Most people I talked to liked the movie Crash, some claiming it was the best movie they had seen on the topic of racism. I was, therefore, looking forward to seeing it but ended up being mostly appalled by cliches and wasted opportunities. (And of course by the fact that so many people see very differently from me; could it be that people are so eager to have this topic discussed that they will accept anything?! Or...what's wrong with me?!) The cast is excellent and the movie is well executed technically, but the story's plot, premises, and conclusions are much like many other Hollywood stories--superficial and ill-considered. Superficial is also the pretense of genre: the film wants to be a drama but ends up being an action movie--with surprises and twists galore.
Quick summary would be that several vignettes juxtapose several participants, white, black,
Latino, Asian and Iranian. Professional connections coexist with basic ignorance and lack of curiosity of each other's groups... and thus stereotypes prevail and fossilize. Closure is in the twists of action; what seems is not and what is good eventually gets spoiled. Great way to discuss race, right?!
Because of the TV-ish visuals, the movie has (too) many parallel stories, and consequently each story lacks depth. Perhaps the way the vignettes are connected is interesting and the irony is quite welcome, but several of the stories are cliches (Sandra Bullock's role, for example) and do not add much new--at least to somebody who knows and moves around the various communities this film tries to portray.
The superficiality of the plots and actions of Crash continues with the "magic twists", typical of Hollywood. One character realizes her past mistakes and, I suppose as a sign of repentance, grabs her maid and gives her a big hug, spontaneously and in a heart-felt way, but (now isn't that a bit too forward, Ms. WhiteGirl?!) one just wanders what their relationship is going to be like from now on? Best friends, closer than family? But it seems unnecessary to dwell on it because the movie does not seem to want to go there anyway, despite what the participants say: the whole film clamors to avoid discussing issues.
Because when something is so unrealistic and paradoxical, how does one discuss it? That lack of discussion goes hand in hand with superficiality, while present is also a solid chunk of cynicism. Cynical is not just the way in which the movie's brute turns hero while honest people turn murderous (and some even cowardly murderers), but how the various twists are left dangling...more mischievously, to surprise, than to raise any discussion points. How can a discussion proceed regarding the fact that the racist cop, who brutally humiliates a by-chance-pulled over African-American couple, then gets even to fight to save the woman's life? Even if we do not want to dwell on how this is possible, let's then just imagine how the experience has changed the two of them? We can imagine all we want but the movie is moving on: they are dropped from then on. Or, as in another case, how can we explain the change of heart in one of the most inclusive of the characters, somebody who almost stood up to his fellow cops for the sake of justice despite colour, but who at the end suddenly gets touchy and twitchy and commits a murder, which he then tries to conceal? How do we explain that twist of morality? Where does it come from? Well, the movie goes on because there are other plots to finish and we should suspend our disbelief.
Excited as I was to see a movie about racism, a very important topic in the US, I was utterly disappointed by yet another Hollywood product simply full of action, extremes, and in this case cynicism to the maximum.
Now my question is as follows: What feature movies (thus not documentaries, which abound) have been made that discuss race? I can come up with oeuvre of Mr. Spike Lee, Mira Nair's Mississippi Masala, which I enjoyed tremendously. There is always the good old To Kill a Mockingbird, but I'm looking for something more recent--80's onward. Anything there? Some movies address the topic a little bit: Matewan, by John Sayles, for example.