CRASH Course Change

June 15, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

One question I am asked often enough that it should probably be entered into my FAQ goes something like this: Do you ever change a rating after going back and seeing a movie for a second time? The answer is "yes," but only rarely. The truth is that my feelings about movies are remarkably consistent. Typically, no matter how many times I see a picture, I feel the same about it on subsequent viewings as I did the first time. This includes films where I'm out-of-whack with the mainstream opinion. But there are exceptions.

Over the course of more than thirteen years of reviewing, I have changed five reviews. Although I don't advertise the re-writes, I am open about them any time I am asked. Three have gone up and two have gone down. The "losers" are: Total Recall, which slipped a half-star between when I initially reviewed it (after a second viewing) and when I did the re-write (after a third one), and Scent of a Woman, which also lost a half-star. (As a point of curiosity, Scent, at the ***1/2 equivalent of 8.5 on my old numerical rating scale, was the first review I ever posted on-line.) The "winners" are: Casablanca, which ascended from ***1/2 to **** when I came to my senses; Pitch Black, which gained a half-star; and now Crash (the Haggis version, not the Cronenberg one).

I first saw Crash last September at the Toronto Film Festival. In that setting, I found it to be too contrived, and Paul Haggis' repeated (and intentional) use of coincidence bothered me. So, when it came time to write the review, I awarded **1/2 based on festival notes. I had no plans to re-see the movie or re-consider the rating, at least not until the film was available on DVD.

Then I was asked to give a talk on the film. Not trusting my nine-month old rusty memory, I ventured into a theater this past weekend to once again see Crash. Lo-and-behold, it turned out to be a better movie than I remembered it to be. The coincidences are still there, but this time I saw what the director was doing with them, and it worked. (So much for my ability to recognize such subtleties at an 8:30 am festival press screening...) Recognizing that my original review did the movie a grave injustice, I re-wrote the text (changing about 50% of it) and "upgraded" the rating to ***. (Anyone interested in reading my initial take on the film can access my original notes from last year's Toronto Film Festival.)

So that's all there is to it. I have never believed any review to be immutable. It is subject to change if I think I have misrepresented the film in question. I'm a little less philosophical than Roger Ebert in this respect. Rather than publically engaging in self-flagellation (as he did in his review of The Longest Yard), I would just change the rating and be done with it. So I now annoint Crash with a recommendation. What are you waiting for... go out and see it!