Monday, July 11, 2005

movie review: "Crash"

Perhaps this isn't so much a review as it is a reflection on the issues the movie illuminates. I struggle to be articulate and insightful about these sorts of things, so I apologize in advance for the jumbled and incoherent nature. It's also really hard to discuss without summarizing a lot of it, which is both complicated and a killjoy to those who have not seen it.

"Crash" is Sandra Bullock's new movie and it has LUDACRIS in it. I cannot tell you how much that influenced by desire to see this movie.

The movie tracks five or six people in L.A. and how their lives are unknowingly intertwined by racism. The first half of the movie develops each character, so you have a frame of reference. The second half of the movie is the culmination and resolution of each storyline. During the first half of the movie, I kept thinking that it would be so much more powerful if the racism was more subtle. Sandra Bullock's character makes derisive statements about the amigo gangbanger who is changing her locks. (By the way, Brendan Frasier is Sandra's husband in the movie, and he plays a very wealthy D.A. You should see their house! Who knew criminal law could be so lucrative?) Ludacris and his buddy talk about not getting service in a restaurant. Don Cheadle tells his mom when she calls mid-coitus that he's banging a white woman. Don says to the now-angry woman, "I would have told her you were Mexican, but I wanted to piss her off." Then the woman informs Don that her parents are from Puerto Rico and El Salvador, which is not Mexico. To which Don replies something along the lines of, "And how is it that these wonderfully diverse cultures all get together and agree to keep junked cars on their lawn?" The great thing about this movie is that the bad guys have good moments, and the good guys have bad moments, so no one is without blame.

So for the most part, the racism is quite blatant, which I don't think is ever really an opportunity to learn. Everyone can walk away thinking "THAT is racism, and I don't say or do those things, and thus I am not racist." The racial undertones that are more subtle are the ones that give cause for reflection. Ryan Phillipe's character has to watch Matt Dillon harass an African-American couple and tries to make up for it later - you see him stick his neck out a few times on behalf of African-American characters but the movie, by the end, gives you something to think about in regards to what racism means. Don Cheadle, a detective in the movie, has to decide whether the theory of the case is that the white guy (cop) has shot his third black man (also a cop), or that the white guy really was acting in self-defense. The lead investigator or D.A. (I couldn't figure it out, but he had a badge anyway) was white and wanted to go forward with the "White man killing three black men" routine, but Don wasn't sure that was the story. The investigator then went off on a politically correct rant about the black community, and the struggles they face, and why things are the way they are, etc. I'm sure at some point we've all said those things. But the kicker is that Don Cheadle, as a black man, has to decide whether (as the white investigator said) the black community needs another dead black man, or a hero killed tragically as a result of racism? I think it's interesting to see how Don Cheadle's character has to resolve this obvious racism issue within a subtle racially motivated framework - that is, the white guy wanting to save the black people using racist (or what some would call reverse-racist) beliefs, and how Don Cheadle has to choose his evils between accepting the white investigator's theory of the case or pursuing what he thinks is the actual turn of events.

If nothing else, it showed how truly shitty police officers (Matt Dillon was a BAD cop but in the end redeems himself, hmph) and D.A.s can be if they want to. There was nary a public defender to be seen, but I'd like to think it's because the movie didn't want to besmirch the wonderful reputation of public defenders. And Ludacris was really good. He had the best rants. I can't say much more without giving away some fun points in the movie, so I won't.

It got me thinking a lot about some of the things we discussed in my critical race theory class, and the role that public defenders play in an inherently racist legal system. I know that there are plenty of people who think that critical race theory, feminist jurisprudence, and the like are just trashy pop-culture politically-correct bullshit classes. I find it to be quite useful as a technique to take another look at what we're doing. We've been taught law in a particular manner, and as such we've adopted this as the objectively correct approach. I think it's instructive to take that lens off from time to time and use a different lens to look at the same picture, and see what sorts of things it turns up. I won't argue that everyone needs to accept these doctrines as absolute truths - you're all smart enough to sincerely study these approaches and draw your own conclusions. But there is not much to be gained by refusing to acknowledge that there are different ways to approach a problem, or a profession.

In the end it's pretty much all resolved, which is good, because if the outcome was all violence and evil and bad shitty things, I'm pretty sure it would have done me in considering my fragile mental state. I know I wasn't so coherent, but man it takes too much energy to write any more deeply or in much more detail, and I'm still not finished processing it all myself. Nor will I be, anytime soon. But here is my assignment to all of you, particularly the public defenders: Go see this movie. Then let's talk about it. Mmmmkay?



Allison said...

One of the women that I work with saw the movie and said that it's a must see - and was even recommending it to participants at a recent Diveristy Training Program that she was conducting. She NEVER promotes anything at a training session, so when she told me that she did, I knew that I had to see it. It's on my must see list now.

Glib Gurl said...

I *loved* that movie - I think it would be great for diversity training. Nobody escapes - everyone's the "bad guy" at some point and all the major cultural stereotypes are out on the table.