Crash - Black is not beautiful: Review
Paul Haggis’s “Crash” won a surprise Academy Award for the Best Picture this year(2006). It was widely believed that Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” would win this Oscar.
It is not very difficult to guess why “Crash”(released in India in March 2006) scored over “Brokeback Mountain”. Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem to have had enough of feel-good cinema. They are done, at least for the time being, with films such as “Titanic”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “A Beautiful Mind”, “Lord of the Rings” and so on.
“Crash” is far from these. It is in an absolutely different genre. It is a movie that provokes us into thinking what terror, even the idea of terror, can do to our psyche. It can make us cruel and inhuman, to say the least.
Here are a few shots of what Haggis has to offer. Matt Dillon, as a racial white police officer, humiliates Thandie Newton and her screen husband, a Hollywood celebrity couple, on the road. And, after he has finished with his degrading act of body searching her, all that he has to say is, “You folks drive safely”. Dillon’s partner on the beat is disgusted, gets himself another mate, but ends up killing a black man whom he gives a ride in his car. The annoyance is as silly as the black man laughing because he is carrying the same Voodoo icon that he sees on the dashboard of the officer’s car! An Iranian immigrant is so vexed about his shop door not shutting properly that he almost ends up shooting the locksmith’s little girl.
“Crash” is a collage of images that tell us how frightened America really is – the film is set in California – and how suspicious its people are of one another. Sandra Bullock as the District Attorney’s wife is so paranoid about someone breaking into her house after her car is hijacked with the house keys in it that she gets hysterical with her husband and disturbs an important meeting. A mother suspects her son of having killed his brother.
Out of this random array of moving frames – a trifle confusing in the beginning – we see a picture emerging. The jigsaw puzzle is complete: race relations are still a problem in the U.S., and it appears to have got more complicated after 9/11. Haggis takes pain to tell us that Americans are afraid to touch one another, and if at all they do, it is only when their automobiles crash, creating a meeting point of sorts, however unpleasant, ugly and unhappy it may be.
“Crash” is cinema all right, evocatively powerful, that drives you to search your conscience. The work’s slick editing, and fine performances by Don Cheadle (as the detective who has to investigate his brother’s murder), Newton and Dillon tell us that “Crash” is not just another movie that can be easily forgotten.
(This review appeared in The Hindu dated March 17 2006)