Monday, September 10, 2007

CRASH MOVIE REVIEW























CAST: DON CHEADLE, MATT DILLON, SANDRA BULLOCK, BRENDAN FRASER, RYAN PHILIPPE
DIRECTOR: PAUL HAGGIS
RATING: **1/2
RUNTIME: 122 min.
GENRE: DRAMA

Crash is the perfect example of the sort of movies I look down on, movies that don’t have a story to tell but instead try to ‘preach’ under the pretense of an ‘important’ ‘message-oriented’ story, the kind of pretentious fluff I despise to the very core. Crash is supposed to be an intersection of people from different ethnic backgrounds interacting with each other over a day. Everyone abuses somebody and god almighty, even manages to undo the wrong doing within the very next day. Preposterous, hell yes. Manipulative, undeniably yes. Is it a good story, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination.
The film, under the disguise of dealing with human interaction, focuses solely on racial discrimination of all kinds amongst a multitude of cultures. Of course there is a black man, in fact there are more than one, but we also have participation from Mexicans and folks down from Middle East. And racial discrimination rules the day, almost encompassing every facet of the dynamics of the individual relations.
The filmmakers seem to be under the impression that they’re doing a great service by touching the subject. As a matter of fact what they do is take the easy way out, chicken out while touching the broken high tension wire. The film takes a politically correct stand, standing high and mighty up in the heaven and judging everybody by their discrimination counter. This isn’t humane by any means; all it does is tour us through a two-hour discourse of what is discrimination. And it isn’t compelling even for a moment. One doesn’t need to look beyond Taxi Driver to understand what it is to feel real passionately on the subject. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader had a compelling story on their hands and that in turn was etched out, by means of the real passion they had, into what is quite probably the defining movie on discrimination of any kind. And all this under the pretext of a human drama. Everyone speaks only one language here. And that language seems to only have words that have anything to do with racial discrimination. I don’t have the least bit idea of the culture we’re talking about here, but hey, discrimination is a universal thing. More so in a culturally diverse country as India where it exists in all forms and sizes. All I ask is three questions: does our species only have racial discrimination to offer? And isn’t it really unhealthy on the part of a film to speak unendingly to the point of numbing our senses with all the talk? And yeah, did everyone else miss the very precious element called subtlety?
It is quite obvious that Paul Haggis (screenwriter for Million Dollar Baby) isn’t exactly as good a director as he is a screenwriter. First he crams up his script with a million caricatures masquerading as characters. And then he lets them do the one important thing I hate in a film, characters just uttering script lines. There’re barely handful of moments where the situation feels real, rather genuine. Everything else seems staged, so artificial. Once you realize the shallow rules of the film, you can guess almost every move it makes. I wasn’t even half way when I had figured out the fate of Ryan Philippe and Sandra Bullock. And none of Haggis’ characters aren’t even the least bit compelling. As I said, they’re what they are, caricatures just delivering all the mumbo jumbo about racial hatred. Human dramas aren’t made on sheets of paper; the script is just a mere foundation. All it needs to be is sound. What you need is much more than that, great direction and class actors. Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu are perfect examples. Amorres Perros, 21 Grams and Babel these are deeply affecting, films that only narrate a deeply complex tale not confined within any boundaries but films that make you think even a couple of days after. What Haggis and his team have done is take the wrong approach, in my opinion. It seems they sat down one fine day and decided to make an ‘essential’ film by means of a ‘message’ movie. The points to be tackled were jotted down first and the characters were just fixtures, this character will speak thus. I’m not sure films work that way, you need to have a forceful story. Look at one of the best films of recent times, the Paul Thomas Anderson directed Magnolia. It is a beautiful film, a film with such wonderfully rich and diverse characters, just like Iñárritu’s films. Why look so far back, we’ve already have had a masterpiece, quiet probably the defining film in Syriana. And yeah, it is a ‘message-movie’ too just in case it mattered. Each individual story in ach of these films is rich and complex and every bit compelling and in some cases heart-breaking. I still sometimes find myself thinking about the characters especially that of the immigrant Pakistani father in Syriana. The film is haunting in ways that are more than one. But here, in Crash, not a single story is fleshed out. They’re all just devices and I guess no improvisation was done from the script to the film. And nothing is left for our imagination, absolutely nothing. The attempt is made to explain almost everything by means of dialogues; the girl finds time to shout to her mother that her father doesn’t have the cloak, for no particular reason Graham Waters’ (Don Cheadle) mother in the end puts him at blame for the loss of her second son. It feels very superficial, no doubt about it but it looks tame to for everyone seems to underestimate the audience. Maybe the actors weren’t just up to scratch.
If this film is any indicator, I’m not exactly looking forward to his next directorial venture.
Another drawback, average actors. Dillon is good, so is Don Cheadle. But Sandra Bullock is hardly an actress who is capable of justifying herself even if Martin Scorsese would direct her, forget her in an ensemble cast. Ditto for Thandie Newton and Brendan Fraser. Of course, it doesn’t help that none of the characters are fleshed out. But that is where fantastic actors come to the fore for that is what separates them from the average. And it is a shame that pretty average performances abound here.
The editing is a major cause of concern. Sequences cut into each other for a reason beyond my comprehension and the result, unnecessary diversion and hence release of the tension whenever the few times it is created. I found no logic in it other than that it was done purely by averages, just like those soap operas wherein each character is given screen time in turns. How else does one explain Cameron Thayer’s (Terence Howard) interaction with Officer Tom Hansen (Ryan Philippe) inter-cutting Farhad’s (Shaun Toub) interaction with Daniel (Michael Pena)? There’re numerous others and the overall effect of the film is one that of a serious lack of fluidity.
And then there’s the ending. Two trivial lady characters, one apparently from Japan and one African-American shout over their vehicles crashing into each other. It feels so ridiculous; as if the film is, at the end of it, brushing aside it all in humor, a poor sense of humor. There do exist critics of the Academy Awards and I’m not one of them. I respect them; they sure have made some arguable choices over the year they are more often than not the surest indicator of art and of entertainment. But if the year boasts of Syriana, Batman Begins, Munich and Brokeback Mountain selecting Crash as the Best Picture isn’t just a shame for the Awards and an award to an undeserving candidate but grossly unfair to the other contenders as well, some of them being nothing short of cinematic achievements. Sorry Academy, but this time around I’m with the detractors.

1 comment:

Trippman said...

Couldn't agree more. I lost all respect for the academys after this one. Especially in the list of the almighty Batman Begins.