Brave enough to recreate the complexity and bitterness of cultural conflicts: ‘Crash’ review

We’re living in a world full of racism and hatred. The recent rise of bigotry and far-right politicians shows that in a whole new dimension. That’s why the movie ‘Crash‘ by Paul Haggis is – sadly – still up-to-date, even after more than ten years after its release.

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The movie ‘Crash’ is set in LA and shows snippets of the lives of some Angelenos. There are two African American men which commit crimes and live a pretty stereotypical black live, but there is also one African American who works in Studio City and produces his own TV show and whose wife is sexually harassed by a white LAPD officer. Furthermore we have a white couple, the wife is afraid of immigrants and black people and the husband fears losing either the black or the law-and-order vote after the two black criminals I mentioned earlier jack their car. Then there is the brother of one of those criminals, who is a detective, has a drug-addicted mother and is in a relationship with a Hispanic women and holds back evidence in order to save his brother from going to jail, but later on his brother is shot by the partner of the LAPD officer who molests the black wife of the black TV producer. Also noteworthy is an Iranian man who owns a shop and wants to protect his family and his shop by buying a gun and changing the locks of his shop. But due to his bad English, he does not understand the Latin locksmith who advises him to buy a new door because his old is broken. After someone broke into his shop afterwards he blames the Latin locksmith and almost shoots his daughter accidentally. Not to forget there is also a Korean man who makes money with human trafficking and who is run over by the two criminal African Americans by accident.

As you may have noticed by now, it’s complex. And that’s exactly one of the things I like about this movie, it’s bravery to make the attempt to display and portrait the complexity of life and different cultures coming together. It tries to show the complex connections between the people in the city of LA which don’t seem to have any connections at all until they break out in a fight and start to show their estrangement and hatred towards each other. In the beginning of the movie this is even mentioned by the black detective, who makes the remark that in LA everybody is driving in their car rather than walking around or driving with the bike and it is because if this, that everyone is so isolated and lonely. In order to feel something again, the people of all the different cultures crashed into each other, he claims. And I totally have to agree with him. It is indeed the case that LA does not have many places where people of different backgrounds can come together. LA can rather be defined as some suburbs in search for a city than a real city, the different cultures don’t assimilate because their neighborhoods are divided by huge freeways on which most people indeed spend a lot of time on, alone in their cars, as studies reveal. Studies also showed that the LAPD is far more trigger-happy than other police departments in the US and that LA in general is one of the most crime-prone cities in the US which is also depicted in the movie, whether it is the carjacking, the sexual harassment, the homicide or the vandalism. All of this data shows how important LA is for this movie, LA is not just some random city the movie is set in but one of the characters itself. Paul Haggis goes that far to say that LA is the “main character” of the movie, which seems pretty reasonable considering that there is no real main character in this movie, since it’s made up of all the different stories that are somehow interconnected.

On the one hand, these interconnections are really interesting but on the other hand, at some points they seem way to implausible to be true. There a millions of people that are in LA each day so I doubt that all of the people that have an especially dramatic day meet one another or sit in the same restaurant on that day. Another thing of which I am not certain if I like it or not is the way the movie begins and ends. It begins with basically the same thing: a car crash and people of different cultures fighting about it. That implies that racism and differences between cultures are some sort of vicious circle and inescapable, at least in LA. It’s true that the problem still exists and that it may take some more decades to handle it better but the movie falls short on giving the viewer hope that there is a way out. The only thing that hints at that is that the ‘slaves’ are freed by one of the black criminals in the end. But other than that it does not show the efforts of the city to improve the situation but paints a rather bleak picture of the situation.

Finally, I have to admit that in a cinematographic way I absolutely loved the darkness and bitterness of the movie. I love how the camera plays with the light and how the people are shown like real people. Not perfect, but sweaty, with bad hair and the people in this movie actually look stressed when they are stressed which is a rarity when it comes to Hollywood movies. And have I mentioned the music yet? No? Well, let me tell you, it’s absolutely beautiful. The scenes of the sunrise in LA with flickering street lights and people commuting to work are paired with calm and melancholic music from Mark Isham, which is beautiful and fits perfectly. To sum it up, I love how artistic this movie is. The music is great and I can’t get enough of the beautiful cinematography in this movie, both of which make LA seem to be plunged in some sort of melancholic and bitter light.

To come to a conclusion,  I would give this movie nine out of ten stars. I really like the stories that the movie tells and how the producers weren’t afraid of showing how unpleasant and tangled up the relationship between the different social groups in LA and in general can be. That attribute paired with the stunning composition of the images and the breathtaking music help to create a feeling of melancholy and rage at the same time, which is pretty cool. So although I think the movie falls short on showing that there is a possibility of improvement I can still really recommend it to you.


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