‘Crash’ 15 Years Later: Remembering a Truly Terrible, Award-Winning Movie
It didn’t deserve the praise it got in 2005, and it’s aged even worse
From its opening moments, watching Crash is like reading your first Tumblr think piece. “It’s the sense of touch,” says Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle). “Any real city, you walk, you’re bumped, brush past people. In L.A., no one touches you. We’re always behind metal glass. Think we miss that touch so much, we crash into each other just to feel something.” It’s like a rapper saying “get it?” after a middling punchline, a flailing swing at cleverness that should have told us everything we needed to know about what was about to unfold.
Sure, densely populated cities like Los Angeles break along racial and cultural lines; that part of Detective Waters fake-deep take on “touch” is true. But director Paul Haggis’ meditation on race and bigotry, which hit U.S. theaters 15 years ago this week, seems to mistake contact for intimacy.
If anything, Crash is too touchy — so heavy-handed that, over the course of its near two-hour run, the story it attempts to tell hardly even matters. The ease with which Haggis stereotypes and demeans his characters speaks to Americans’ most paranoid sensibilities. Its diverse cast and glossy ambition to tell multiple interlocking stories about race relations and volatile cultural misunderstandings helped the film feel like a progressive dream for some, and an assuager of White guilt for others.
In 2005, there were many reasons to be excited about Crash. Cheadle is just one part of a remarkably talented cast including Thandie Newton, Ludacris, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock, and Brendan Fraser. Haggis had just come off the award juggernaut that was Million Dollar Baby. And with Americans still lingering in some semblance of post-9/11 national solidarity, it seemed like we might actually be ready to have a serious conversation about cultural harmony.
The grace Haggis bestows White people who have otherwise shown zero potential for growth isn’t just…