It often seems that the best movies we discover are not those whose trailers entice us or which the media hypes, but those we hear about from our friends and colleagues. I can’t recall seeing an ad or trailer for Crash. The first I heard of it was when, a few weeks ago, one friend told me it was the only movie she had seen recently. Since then, I keep running into people who tell me how amazing this movie is. When I went to buy a ticket on Sunday night, it was sold out at the Grove. The following morning, I saw an article in the LA Times. The sub-headline noted that the flick had “become the movie to see and discuss.”
Not wanting to know about the movie before I saw it, I set the article aside and prepared to arrive nearly an hour early to buy a ticket to see a screening that night at the Arclight. It was of the rare times when I went to see a movie about which I knew nothing–only that a lot of people had enjoyed it.
While I smiled in recognizing the truth in Don Cheadle‘s opening monologue that people in LA are so afraid to touch that we often come together only by crashing into one another, the movie began to lose me. People didn’t seem to be dealing with each another as individuals, but as representatives of their race. I have rarely — even in LA — see racial attitudes so directly expressed. I could understand why one women in Texas walked out “an hour before the film’s ending.” According to the LA Times, Angela Clemons of Tyler, Texas said the film “seemed to pit every race against the other races.” Yet, even after watching about half the movie, she couldn’t “get the dang movie out of [her] head.” Nor can I.
WARNING TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM, I GIVE AWAY SOME DETAILS ABOUT THE FILM’S ENDING BELOW
And while I stayed to watch the whole thing, eventually growing to love the movie as the characters interacted with one another, I can’t get it out of my head either. When I Instant Messaged my wise cinephile cousin from Philadelphia recommending the film, she wrote back that she and her husband and already seen and loved it. I did note that I had some problems with the beginning of the film, saying that the “racial divide was too crudely drawn.” She replied that the “obvious stereotyping” was deliberate, that “we are creating our own stereotypic thinking about the characters which turns out otherwise.” As the characters develop, we go “down one layer, and then another.”
She’s right. As the movie develops, we see that the characters are more complicated that their narrow attitudes they initially express. An apparently racist cop (Matt Dillon) saves the life of a black woman (Thandie Newton), risking his own life to pull her from an overturned SUV about to explode. An uptight white woman (Sandra Bullock) who is suspicious of a Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) realizes that her Hispanic housekeeper (Yomi Perry) is her closest friend.
While there is so much to commend in this film, for example, the quality of the writing, the excellence of the acting, the believability of the relationships, I want to focus on two of the many, intertwining stories in the film.
The locksmith reassures his five-year-old daughter that she will be protected from bullets if she puts on an invisible cape that a fairy had given him. When an irate client (Shaun Toub) threatens him with a gun, believing the locksmith is responsible for a break-in at his store, his daughter runs up just as the man is firing. Unbeknownst to either man, the bullets are blanks. Despite the father’s worst fears, no one is hurt. The little girl just wanted to protect her father with her cape. The client later calls her his angel, having saved him from being destroyed by the darker aspects of his nature.
As Sandra Bullock’s Jean Cabot tries to talk about a dark aspect of her own nature with a friend, confessing to her in a phone conversation that she wakes up angry every morning, that friend, instead of listening in an hour of need, tells Jean that she has to go. Later, when Jean slips and falls, spraining her ankle, that friend couldn’t help because she was getting a massage. Fortunately, her housekeeper arrives, takes her to the doctor and looks after her when she returns home. Only then does she realize that this woman, whom she had previously taken for granted, is her closest friend.
With these stories, Crash, as all great movies reminds us that it is relationships which sustain us, make us human. And sometimes we take the most important relationships in our lives for granted.
But, the movie does more than merely remind us of the sustaining power of human relationships, it also asks us to look beyond the surface of each individual, for many of us are more complicated that we at first appear. That many seemingly narrow-minded people are capable of doing good. And that some of us, in difficult situations, are capable of changing and appreciating people — and things — that we once took for granted. Let me stress that to say that the movie does these things is to only address part of its power. For, it does — and says — so much more.
I will likely see it again. Perhaps, knowing its conclusion, I will find the initial stereotypical attitudes less jarring. I will certainly appreciate the storytelling and the acting even on a second viewing.
We have come to expect good things from actors like Don Cheadle and Thandie Newton. And they do not disappoint. His performance in this movie convinces me that his Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda is the first of many he will receive. Her performance causes me to ask–why don’t we see more of her? She is, along with Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet, one of the best actresses of her generation.
It wasn’t only these talented actors whose performances impressed. Sandra Bullock proved that, with good direction, she can deliver an outstanding performance. And in the performances of Michael Pena, Sean Toub and Terrence Howard, I discovered acting talent with which I had previously not been familiar.
There are times when Hollywood gets it right. This is one of them.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com