Crash (2004)

(On DVD, February 2006) Seen from the perspective of a French-Canadian, life in Los Angeles often takes on an alien quality that makes it hard to distinguish reality from exaggeration, especially when it’s seen from the distorted prism of cinema. Small surprise, then, if this tale of racism in modern L.A. often feels too unbelievable to be entirely credible. I don’t know the state of race dynamics in today’s southern California, but Crash paints a damning portrait that leaves few ideals standing once it’s done smashing all its characters to pieces. Unfortunately, the way it does so smacks of arbitrary plotting and authorial intent: It’s as if characters, in-between scenes, traded an instruction card saying “You’re now going to do something incredibly stupid.” The result is a film that may aspire to much, but ends up playing the same note over and over again, resulting in a melodrama that can’t be taken too seriously. (Indeed, by the end of the film, I was referring to character in term of their standing on the “Wish They’d Be Hit By a Bus” scale.) What’s unfortunate is that there is some very good material in here, from the ambiguous characters to the chaotic nature of their interaction to the film’s deep acting talent to the cinematography. A number of scenes, as unlikely as they are, still resonate well after the end of the credits. But that’s not nearly enough. The film may self-consciously rely on the vagaries of chance and coincidence, but it only ends up making the experience frustrating and, yes, ridiculous. There aren’t any easy answers here, but there are a lot of silly questions.

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