NEITHER NOIR NOR NEO-NOIR
by John M. Floyd
Even though this is a blog about mystery/crime/suspense short stories, I sometimes veer off into the area of mystery/crime/suspense fiction in general, which includes movies. Among those I have written about in the past are Double Indemnity, Witness, The Spanish Prisoner, Dial M for Murder, Blood Simple, In Bruges, Psycho, and L.A. Confidential — and most seem to fall into the noir category, or in some cases (if there is such a thing) present-day noir.
The movie I’m covering today is neither. It’s a combination of totally different storylines about people in the Los Angeles area that interconnect during the course of the film, and the result is outstanding. I’m talking about Crash, the movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2006 (defeating the critically-acclaimed frontrunner Brokeback Mountain), and will — like Chinatown — probably still be taught in film schools fifty years from now. For some reason it’s not well known, but believe me, it’s worth your time. (NOTE: This should not be confused with another feature film with the same title that came out in 1996, with Holly Hunter and James Spader, or with the 2008 TV series starring Dennis Hopper. Completely different shows. Enough said, there.)
This one stars Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, and many others, and takes chances that usually do not result in a hit film. It’s extremely slow-paced and moody, for one thing, and it features no superstars except maybe Bullock, and — as I mentioned — it jumps around and follows the stories of a lot of seemingly unrelated players. As always with great movies, however, the characters are well written and well acted: racist cop, immigrant shopkeeper, Hollywood director, pampered wife, carjackers, aging parents, drug addicts, etc.
I can’t say enough about the construction of this movie. Paul Haggis’s direction and writing were top-notch (Crash took the Oscar that year for best screenplay as well), and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Haggis had also written Million Dollar Baby, which won Best Picture in 2004. Among other things, Crash includes two stunning plot twists that are perfectly set up and executed (they’ll make you want to stand up and cheer) and an absolutely satisfying ending, but the biggest and best thing about this film is the use of “arcs” that completely change the attitudes and the lives of almost a dozen different characters. That’s the kind of thing we as writers should strive for — and stories like this one can teach us that.
Crash is one of those intelligent crime films that manages to entertain as well as “illuminate.” (I love it when that happens, whether it’s a movie or a novel or a short story, and it seems to happen less and less these days.) Even its commercial tagline is clever, and appropriate too: “Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.”