I don't think I have ever written about my views on Million Dollar Baby, the movie that swept away four major oscars this year (best movie, directing, supporting actor, leading actress) and lost on three other categories for which it was nominated. I liked it a lot. It certainly was one of the best movies of last year. But it was sort of underwhelming too. I had expected something even better, but thats not the fault of the movie. Thats the fault of the huge media hype which made me expect probably the best movie of last ten years. It was good, its probably a classic that might be remembered for a long time to come. And yet, it STILL didn't quite reach the heights I was expecting after reading all about it. My reaction after I saw it for the first time was "is that it? its good.. but it really wasn't THAT great!"... after I saw it again, I liked it better and now I really do think it is great. Definitely better than most movies that get the sort of exposure that it got. I can still think of numerous movies that are just as good or better than MDB, but they tend not to get the backing of the studios and the sort of wide release that it got, specially if they belong to the genre it did. And that is a great thing in its own right. Anyway, that movie's screenplay was written by Paul Haggis, who has now himself directed another of his screenplay giving us a movie that simply blew me away. I saw Crash yesterday, and can't stop talking about it since then. This might also be because it wasn't hyped (or even publicized a lot) and so I was expecting something good, but not quite as amazing as it turned out to be. Which means, that maybe 2 years from now I'll rate Million Dollar Baby higher than Crash, but as of now I really think that Crash is one of the best movies I have seen recently. This year hasn't seen a lot of great movies, at least till now. So, this is probably not saying much, but for whatever its worth, I think that Crash is easily the best movie to have released this year so far. (Here "so far" is the key.. as most of the best movies of the year actually release from september to december, so we might see some truely brilliant movies from now on... But I suspect that Crash will stand on its own against most of these movies.. )
One reason why I probably liked the movie so much is because of the theme, which is something I have always felt strongly about. I find most forms of generalizations highly objectionable, even ridiculous. Things like "Pakistanis are like this", "Sardars are like this", "women are like this", "Bengalis are like this", "capricornians are like this" all make me very mad.. And racial discrimination is one of the most visible generalizations. Crash introduces us with many characters involved in incidents that show us racial prejudice, xenophobia and behavior based on generic stereotypes. If nothing else, the theme itself probably entails that the movie should be seen all over US, if not the world.
However, its not just the theme that makes it such a good movie. the stories are all running parallel and cross each other a la 21 Grams and Amores Perros (and Yuva in Hindi), and just like it happens in those movies, they all have the same undercurrent - in this case, prejudice and stereotyping. One of the key lines in the movie is "You think you know who you are? You have no idea." Which essentially tells you that all this is so much ingrained in us that even if we think we are above such things, we probably are not. There are times when our choices and behaviour gets affected by those ingrained mappings that we have inherited from our society, however illogical these mappings might sound to us. Importantly, it also shows the other side. The side that says that however strong our opinions might be about someone/something, there are times when our choices and actions are affected by the simple humanity and equality of all human lives. This latter part is what sounds a bit too simplistic to me. But then, maybe I am a bit too pessimistic/cynical about people. In any case, the movie's point is made much better because of these incidents that show us that our first impression of almost anyone, however justified it might seem initially, has nothing to do with what that person might acually be like, or what he/she might be capable of under certain conditions.
The movie probably needs to be called sad or depressing. But I personally didn't think it was. If anything, there are scenes in the movie that are quite liberating. It does not have light moments, but there are moments when you feel good about the world.
The impact of the movie is based on how much we feel for the characters. And any such movie has to stand on the shoulders of great acting. Crash literally explodes with the quality of acting almost every one of a huge number of actors show us. There is not one character that could have been played better. Perfect casting, absolutely perfect performances. Pity, it will not get many nominations because none of the characters has large enough screen time for that. This is also another movie that screams out loud for a "best acting by an ensemble of actors in a movie" award. There aren't many movies that will probably be able to stand the claim of Crash if any such award is instituted.
The movie is full of cleverly played and written sequences. Its replete with serendipity and chance plays a huge factor, but it didnt feel manipulative to me, which is normally a real danger for this genre. There are scenes which will simply take you to the edge and then suddenly relieve all the tension in a single moment. The whole theatre collectively gasped at some of these scenes. I have NEVER seen that before.
I remember that there was a test screening of Crash happening in Rochester, earlier this summer. I almost got hold of a ticket but then had to give it up. I was disappointed then, but not because I knew anything about the movie. It was just the thrill of watching a test screening. One of my friends then laughed and said "how can you be disappointed at missing the chance to see a movie which has Sandra Bullock in it?". And I, in my infinite wisdom, agreed to what he said. That will be a reminder for me about the dangers of prejudice!! :)