Thursday, September 30, 2010

Film Review: CRASH (1996, David Cronenberg)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: James Spader (TUFF TURF, WOLF), Elias Koteas (EXOTICA, SHUTTER ISLAND), Holly Hunter (RAISING ARIZONA, THE PIANO), Deborah Cara Unger (THE GAME, THIRTEEN), Rosanna Arquette (AFTER HOURS, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN), Peter MacNeill (BODY PARTS, SIMON BIRCH). Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard (EMPIRE OF THE SUN). Music by Howard Shore (AFTER HOURS, VIDEODROME, THE LORD OF THE RINGS). Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (DEAD RINGERS, NAKED LUNCH, MARS ATTACKS!).
Tag-lines: " Love in the dying moments of the twentieth century."
Best one-liner: " They bury the dead so quickly. They should leave them lying around for months."

The next chapter in David Cronenberg's continuing treatise on the cruel metamorphosis of human flesh, CRASH is a bold, virile film that's as hilarious as it is existentially terrifying.

The car itself is a conceptual hotbed of primordial fears and visceral desires: the stifling, claustrophobic space; constrictive belts and cold metal clasps; exhilarating accelerations and jolting stops– it's even the site of many a Baby Boomers' first sexual fumblings... and, oh yeah– the ever-present threat of death and shattered glass and crumpled metal and blood and fluid and bodies penetrated, torn, and ripped by the thundering collision of jagged steel and spongy tissue. We are surrounded by machines: they are part of us, and there is no escape. So we adapt, we integrate, we re-form ourselves like the maladjusted flesh sculptors we are. Howard Shore's dark, entrancing score sends metallic echoes and screeching guitar reverberations up from the pit of our deepest fears– it's as relentless and hypnotic as a highway cloverleaf. It taps into some primal fascination we don't quite have the vocabulary for– from watching bacteria mingle under a slide to pornography to, say, KOYAANISQATSI. Cronenberg’s actors are BEYOND committed. And therein lies the humor– we laugh, not because it’s 'funny,' but because these people are FOR REAL: the way Holly Hunter awkwardly scrabbles around for the remote after the crash test VHS they're watching unexpectedly pauses, the sincerely ecstatic way that Spader and Hunter heartlily applaud a high-impact 'performance,'

or this shot of a young, fanny-packin', ripped-jeans-wearin' crew member wheeling a camera away to reveal...

...smarmy, disaffected Spader.

Rosanna Arquette becomes a work of modern, sexualized art worthy of Giger, framed by chrome braces, gaping scars, and fishnets,

and her bizarre, mortifying interaction with an awkward, high-end car salesman is 100% worth the price of admission:

Deborah Kara Unger is deeply damaged and possesses a fascinating, serpentine detachment:

but, like in EXOTICA, it's Elias Koteas' natural, volatile charisma that becomes the film's centerpiece- his narration and reenactment of the James Dean crash is the kind of triumph that most actors spend an entire lifetime in search of.

I mean, look at him!

Nobody sucks face quite like Elias Koteas.

A great date movie, and best seen at the theater so you can really savor that car ride home. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

hehe, good review! This is a very odd film and along with NAKED LUNCH, shows Cronenberg's incredible knack for adapting seemingly unfilmable novels. I'm glad you mentioned Koteas who delivers an absolutely ferocious performance in this film. The man just doesn't get enough credit. Just re-watching THE THIN RED LINE recently and was struck by how good he was in that film also.

Sean Gill said...

Thanks, J.D.- certainly agree about Cronenberg re: adaptations- I sorta see VIDEODROME as his straight-up, all-encompassing Philip K. Dick adaptation, too (a la Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS cf. Lovecraft). Even M. BUTTERFLY, while not entirely successful, retains a strange power.

And Koteas is fuckin' great. Even in a throwaway role like as 'the homeless guy' in APT PUPIL. So when he gets to take center stage, it's really a treat. It was nice to see him for about 5 seconds in SHUTTER ISLAND, but it only made me wish he was the star of the film!

Tempest said...

I have not seen it since it was in theaters. I think I need to watch it again as I doubt I understood all of it. I was not sure if some it was meant to be funny and if Rosanna's character was some sort of metaphor.