There is a hilarious song in Avenue Q, entitled “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”, that comedically proposes that we all have prejudices based on race. Paul Haggis’ “Crash”, which I finally saw last night, is essentially saying the same thing, but by beating its audience over the head again and again, and again and again, and again, and then again and again.
During the course of about one day in Los Angeles, stereotypically drawn characters — an uptight L.A. rich woman, a pair of hustling kids, a mismatched LAPD duo, a maid, an angry shop owner, a locksmith, a TV director, and more — cross paths. Haggis’ L.A. is a caricature of the city, a dark vision trying to make sense of the place. Each character’s interaction with another is built around some sort of race-based insult that Haggis implies lurk just below the surface in our daily interactions. By the time the film ends 5 or 6 times, many characters will switch course and do something dramatically unexpected, all to the sounds of swelling music. By the time you leave the theater, you may feel like you’ve just been attacked, or worry that you are about to be…
His movie has clearly struck a chord. Acquired by Lions Gate at the Toronto fest last fall for a few million dollars, the film has earned $50 million in about 8 weeks, making it a rare independent hit this summer. For me, the film was laughably bad at times in its one-note pencil sketch of L.A., and frustratingly manipulative. Yet, containing some solid performances from the likes of Matt Dillon, Ludacris, Terrence Howard, Ryan Phillipe, and Thandie Newton. But whether you like the movie or not, there is something to talk about, or in my case read about, after seeing it.
Haggis’ Los Angeles is a personal nightmare. A successful TV writer, he reportedly sketched out the the initial script and characters after being unable to sleep at 2 a.m., inspired by his own real-life carjacking. Haggis’ fictional Los Angeles is seemingly as big as just a few square blocks, with disparate characters crossing paths, ala “Magnolia” or “Short Cuts.” And while in Paul Thomas Anderson’s L.A., frogs fall from the sky, in Haggis’ it snows at Christmas.
Before reading a bit more about Haggis and his TV roots, I was thinking that the film would have been better suited to television, playing out melodramatically each week like “Six Feet Under” or “Desperate Housewives”, rather than packed into 2 hours. Apparently, many others agree, an article in today’s Hollywood Reporter indicates that a TV series based on the movie is in development at FX.