I never saw Crash when it came out because I like to think I have developed a good sense for what movies are good or bad simply from seeing some of their publicity. Yesterday was a snow day and today was a snow day, though, and sometimes watching "big" movies is a fun way to celebrate those kind of days.
But instead, it was bad, and here is the main reason: non-diegetic sound. That is, it relies on music and sounds that aren't generated from the action on the screen itself as a substitute for true emotion. The use of non-diegetic sound isn't necessarily why Crash is bad, but it was a big early clue for me that it would be. I mean, when there is a scene, and it it supposed to be an intense interpersonal exchange, and in the background you hear this thick, sludgy layer of synthesized soundtrack, it means that they are trying to manipulate you using something other than whatever dramatic interest and tension they have invested in the characters. It's a cop out, in other words. And they use this all the time in Crash.
Take away the music, and you'd have some pretty boring stuff going on, I think. Really, what is so devastating about the epiphanies experienced by the characters in this movie? Here's a short list:
Shop keeper guy: if you shoot someone's kid, you really should not have done that.
Locksmith: it is so great when your children are not shot by unstable immigrant entrepreneurs.
Matt Dillon, bad cop: women will not like you if you touch them inappropriately.
TV director's wife: even if a cop is a bigot, he might try to save you from a burning car.
Good cop kid: sometimes, when angry strangers reach for their pockets in a violent manner and it is late at night, they are not reaching for guns.
Sandra Bullock: you should not be shallow and materialistic.
TV director: people are bigoted against blacks, and that is partly because some black youths steal cars.
The other cop guy: I'm not sure what he learned.
Ludicris: maybe I don't always live up to my ideals about not stealing from other black people. I should really examine the way I live because I am ashamed of myself.
It's not just the obtuseness of the message that I dislike, but the ham-fisted way the movie uses bizarre coincidence after coincidence, cute children, and a melodramatic soundtrack to make it all come together. Ultimately, I think it was popular because by saying "You need to see Crash," people could tell themselves that they were enlightened on the subject of race. But could any movie about race in America really leave you feeling this good and this hopeful for the possibility that we can all be brought together? Is it that easy?
Wow, that's quite a rant.