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)
Observe and Report got a lukewarm reception at the box office mostly because of unfortunate timing – Warner Brothers released the movie about a mall cop three months after the Kevin Smith ahem, blockbuster vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop and suffered for it. Thankfully, Criticize This writer and Indefensible founder Andrew Parker and Exclaim!’s Will Sloan are ready to make us believe that this movie is a masterpiece. Seth Rogen won’t be at the Toronto Underground Cinema at both this Friday and Sunday screenings, but for us gays and girls who like our guys ‘Rogen size,’ Torontoist‘s John Semley will come to Friday along with CinemaScope’s Adam Nayman – unconfirmed – to trash the movie. I have no idea what size Mr. Sloan comes in. Then this Sunday, NOW Magazine‘s Norman Wilner will introduce, defend Observe and Report and show its similarities to another film showing at the Underground that night – Taxi Driver.
I have cheese factory duties on both screening times so I won’t get to see Rogen and his apparently career-best film performance. Neither will I see the great Celia Weston, nor apparently the greatest fight scene in an English language film, nor the longest full frontal scene ever – not a pun. Nor will I be there to snark that ‘I hate malls, I like boutiques better, I hate the suburbs, I live in Toronto.’ I will be there in spirit. Supporting cast includes Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Patton Oswalt, etc. Both screenings start at 7PM. Proceeds go to the Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder.
- Picks of the Week, April 9, 2009 (mrmovietimes.com)