Crash and Race

I watched the movie ‘Crash’ (Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Ryan Philippe, Mat Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, lots of others). It was fascinating. I’m not sure what to make of it, still, but I would recommend it. If I were putting together a film festival of recent mainstream fiction movies ‘Crash’ would be in it (So would ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ and ‘Red Dust’, and even ‘The Interpreter’, but we’ll leave those for another time).


I watched the movie ‘Crash’ (Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Ryan Philippe, Mat Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, lots of others). It was fascinating. I’m not sure what to make of it, still, but I would recommend it. If I were putting together a film festival of recent mainstream fiction movies ‘Crash’ would be in it (So would ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ and ‘Red Dust’, and even ‘The Interpreter’, but we’ll leave those for another time).

It was a movie about race in Los Angeles. It is pretty harsh. Brutal, even, but with moments of real hopefulness amidst all the wreckage. There are several things that are very difficult to do for a modern, jaded audience, that this movie does.

First, none of the characters are stereotypes (the characters of Sandra Bullock and Ludacris come closest to being stereotypes, but Ludacris surprised me twice) but they manage to be consistent. They do things that you don’t expect, changing your view of them, but not in a way that makes you think their behaviour is totally implausible.

Second, the plot is truly unpredictable. I am a pretty jaded consumer of fiction and I genuinely did not know what was going to happen.

Third, it is deeply political and also subtle. The characters are really human and flawed, but what’s so interesting about it is that social forces are just as present as the characters, shaping interactions and scenes, and sometimes they have their way and sometimes they don’t (the young Iranian doctor manages to foil at least one). It is political in the way that a story that looks honestly and deeply at the world can be.

It contrasts for me strongly with another movie about Los Angeles that I watched years ago – Training Day (Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke). That plot was totally predictable, all of the characters were stereotypes, and un-political in a way that shows an insensitivity to the world.

I don’t actually think the writer of ‘Crash’ is a radical; it’s framed in too ‘even-handed’ a way for that. But it was a very moving and surprising piece for me, and there were some heartbreakingly moving scenes (like the ones with the invisible cloak). Watch it and I’ll meet you in the comments section.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

4 thoughts on “Crash and Race”

  1. Sounds good! I will check it
    Sounds good! I will check it out when it hits our screens in ten months or so…

    This list of good(better?) mainstream fiction films is interesting too. I’ve mostly been settling for isolated references in mainstream US films that people seem to have sneaked in there. E.g. I just saw the new Batman movie and the ‘baddies’ are an age-old society of people committed to destroying the population every now and then… but in one line they say the latest tool of population destruction they came up with was economics, which created so much poverty and hunger that people tore each other apart.

    I thought that was a clever dig!

  2. I saw Batman too. Batman has
    I saw Batman too. Batman has long been the bottom of the barrel for superheroes for me. He’s wealthy. He works with the police. He busts mostly working-class crooks on the street, while he’s from the superelite. His fortune comes from the arms trade, among other things. He’s basically a paramilitary vigilante thug working for the status quo (contrast that with the X-Men, for example, or even Spider Man). The opening of the movie only confirmed all that for me. And while all that is true, the fact that he spent this movie fighting another set of figures from the elite gave it a slightly different flavour – intra-elite divisions, which I suppose are a good thing when they give others breathing room. I ended up thinking the movie wasn’t too bad – the turning point for me was when he decided not to kill the thief near the beginning. The plot twists were very foreseeable though…

  3. Why so many superhero films?
    Why so many superhero films? I think part of it is that it is less risky to rehash old storylines than to be original. Look at “Bewiched”! Wasn’t there even a Brady Bunch movie?

    Anyway I’ve had a weakness for superhero films, even though I feel that their appeal is linked to how impotent and weak people are made to feel.

    I like the way Peter Parker is made to suffer in Spiderman II. He takes a noble path and is treated like a loser. That certainly rings true.

    It will be a good sign when superhero films lose their appeal.

  4. Nice Batman analysis,
    Nice Batman analysis, Justin. I always hated how patronizing he was to his assistant, Robin – but an arms dealer gives a lil something more to hold on to.

    By the way, the Israelis have a superhero who tries to stop Qassam rockets. I’m not sure that said hero knows they are just metal pipes…

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