After watching some hard-hitting cinema at the Toronto International Film Festival I went home to watch a great movie in Paul Haggis‘ Crash last Saturday night. Oh that’s right, I’m not supposed to like Crash, a movie I first saw as a summer film in 2005 and liked then. I started noticing the backlash in 2007, when people started questioning its premise that the anomic and diverse environments like Los Angeles, California encourages racism but also lets these characters overcome their prejudices. They’re all racist, which is pretty grim.
And I can’t necessarily divorce myself from the warped mind that guides racism. Take for instance, disgruntled Officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) unloading his issues on the stereotypically named Shaniqua Johnson (Loretta Devine), as if everything that’s happened to him and his father is automatically her fault. Like, are you fucking for real? Unpleasant topic aside, at least it’s not one of those movies or shows trying to pass racism or other people’s ignorance off as funny.
It’s also called by some bloggers as the worst during the 80th Academy Awards slide show, and this is taking into consideration that Around the World in 80 Days won the same award too. It also didn’t help that Brokeback Mountain made decade lists two or three years after and a movie that I still haven’t seen in its entirety despite being a Queer Cinema essential. Besides, what’s so wrong about a movie that has both Iron Man sidekicks and Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock, the most reviled cinema couple in recent history? And any Devine movie that isn’t a Tyler Perry movie is automatically passable.
A friend of mine has criticized the film’s premise, And I start seeing that now. Det. Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) has a girlfriend/coworker Ria (Jennifer Esposito) who snaps and tell him about stereotypes, and he says stuff back. Then another coworker, Flanagan (William Fitchner) fires off more stereotypes towards him. The movie takes place in two days and they are already saying fighting words, which is strange because Graham and Flanagan might have just met each other for the first time that day. I’m pretty sure there’s a long grace period between civil conversation and its exact opposite, right?
The first half of the of the film shows these characters – or groups of - encountering each other, race relations coming to the forefront. After the sixty-fifth minute mark, these characters will meet again. It’s pretty straightforward, but there are some variations. Character A, who might have had a clash or a crash with character B might either meet the latter again or with a character C or maybe A, B or C might meet together. I don’t know what I’m taking about.
From here on, this post will talk about these scenes in the dénouement and maybe I’ll talk about the actors in those scenes. Also, these scenes happen at the same time, which I find it difficult to believe but then I live in a big city. Weird stuff happens to me all the time. Some spoilers straight ahead.
John saving Christine Thayer’s (Thandie Newton) life makes it forgivable that he molested her the day before.
Officer Tom Hansen (Ryan Philippe) defends Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard), a ‘Uncle Tom’ character gone E.L. Doctorow. I cared about this the least because I became lukewarm towards Philippe after his post-turn of the 21st century fame. His ex-wife Reese Witherspoon won the Best Actress trophy the same year, making people think that she has the advantage in that doomed marriage, but he was in the film that won Best Picture. So I guess they were even. Hansen will later let a man hitch a ride, which won’t end well.
Look at Daniel’s (Michael Pena) face! This is the film’s best climax. Pena here gives nuance to a half stereotype.
The nobly named Jean Cabot (Bullock) talks to someone over the phone on how angry she is all the time. And then she falls down the stairs because she wears socks inside.
Say what you will about the writing but I give kudos to these actors who were known for anything but drama. It affirmed the positive side on my continuing ambivalence towards Bullock. It also reintroduced Howard – who also starred in Hustle and Flow which was released in the same year – to audiences before he went crazy and introduced Pena who is one of the most underrated and versatile actors working today.
And I like how Haggis and crew shot this film, the blurred city lights at the background, the actors well framed within the screen. These visuals give the film both gravitas, warmth and hope and the rest of you can debate the legitimacy of those elements in the film.
- Director Paul Haggis wins Crash lawsuit against producer (guardian.co.uk)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Louise Fletcher in the film adaptation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” called Cruel Intentions. Yeah she’s in this movie, undeservedly provoking Sebastian Valmont’s (Ryan Phillipe) misanthropy, one of the fakest things in the film. The Oscar winner’s got at two scenes, least five lines and loses meatier parts of the film to Christine Baranski or Swoosie Kurtz. Her role is more symbolic, as her century-old estate is the setting for Sebastian, her favourite nephew to clandestinely seduce Kansas born Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon). So yes, I haven’t forgotten that this movie is about the kids.
Yes, this movie asks us to make too many leaps of logic, as Roger Kumble‘s script makes the characters swear too much but oh, they’re private school educated, which accounts for all the witty comebacks. And that their Calvin Klein, minimalist chic makes the actors look like their real ages as opposed to their characters who are supposedly 17. Or that all the rich adolescents in 1999 had therapists and wore two layers during the summer or wore tighty whities or had invisible parents. And that they all suddenly looked younger by the time they wore their private school uniforms.
But I still prefer this over Dangerous Liaisons, since Christopher Hampton’s script is still more affected and mannered than this newer version. The chateaus of France became estates and penthouses inhabited by New York debutants, its gardens turned into Central Park. My generation has probably grown up to be slightly ashamed of loving Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s turn as Kathryn Merteuil, but she matches Philippe’s smugness with her raunchy side, fighting her sexual desire for him and chooses to destroy him instead. Besides, she’s probably the only actress who can dress like Audrey Hepburn and still doesn’t look insipid subvert her character’s mean streak. And Philippe makes Sebastian appeal to Annette instead of simply seducing her, their growing feelings towards each other being both a product of rich man’s cabin fever and that she can actually see sincerity and fragility pouring through, bringing in the change that both he and Kathryn were afraid of.
I only watched this film is because of Abbie Cornish. Her most famous role yet is that of a romantic lead, but here she both plays lover and fighter. As Michelle, she’s known the boys in this film since third grade, and she won’t stop reminding Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Philippe) that when the both of them get in trouble. When Brandon tries to road trip to DC to petition his , it’s her car he’s using and she’s on the driver’s seat. Some detractors might see her performance as a bit Aileen Wuornos, but she’s very convincing as a tequila drinking, pool playing tough girl, and I’m a sucker for characters like hers.
I guess I shouldn’t judge a movie that I’ve only seen in parts, but many clichés are scattered in this film. For example, a hoe-down scene when almost everything that happens seems like it’s part of a checklist of what Texan veterans do. I have to remember that these characters are based on living persons, so I don’t know how racist these real people really are. And God forbid one or these characters weren’t written as Sorkinian deus-ex-machinae. It’s better to leave characters to speak and acting in their own vernacular. However, there’s no consistent rawness in the script nor in the acting. The said scene, and others after that, portrays them as textbook racists and shooting, fighting drunks doesn’t work, and instead of making the audience pity or deride them, the film makes me feel like it’s questioning my intelligence. When Brandon makes his way to DC, everyone he meets and everyone who tries to call him back seem more like allegories instead of fully fleshed-out characters. Those characters’ terribly delivered speeches are accompanied by slow electric guitars I’ve heard in every Iraq war film. I reacted more ambivalently to the way the male characters have flashbacks of their tour in Iraq, which again are very clichéd but the actors unhesitatingly go to those dark places. By reenacting those traumatic moments in their home country, it kinda lessens the images of the atrocities these soldiers have done to the Iraqis. Because we needed more of those.
P.s. Lame actor trivia/shpiel: In the early 2000′s, I had this opinion that Philippe was gonna be the best actor of his generation, seeing his roles and performances were showy in the late 90′s and all. He still did a lot of interesting stuff after that time, but he’s two inches short of being an A-lister. Philippe was born in 1974, just like Christian Bale, Michael Shannon, Joaquin Phoenix and Leonardo di Caprio. All five have different career trajectories, only Christian and Leo went ‘big’ so far as well as competed for the same roles, and none of them look like they were born the same year.