Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Film Review: Crossing Over

WITH a strong ensemble cast that includes Harrison Ford as an "immigration gestapo," Crossing Over, as its Wikipedia entry defines it, "is about illegal immigrants of different nationalities struggling to achieve legal status in the US in general and Los Angeles in particular. The film deals with the border, document fraud, the asylum and green card process, work-site enforcement, naturalization, the office of counter terrorism and the clash of cultures."

Directed by Wayne Kramer (best known for The Cooler), it is actually a remake of his 1995 short film of the same name. Because it involves multiple and often interweaving story lines, it has been compared (rather unfairly, in my view) with the likes of similarly-styled films like Traffic, Crash, Babel and Magnolia.

Kramer, a native of South Africa who became a naturalized American does a good job of depicting what immigrants are willing to do for the so-called American Dream. Among them is a young British immigrant (Jim Sturgess) who has to pretend to be Jewish to get a job at a Jewish school that would mean continued stay in the US. His girlfriend (Alice Eve), an aspiring actress from Australia who got tangled with a corrupt immigration officer (Ray Liotta) promising quick green card processing in exchange for sexual favors for a limited time.

But Crossing Over is not just about desperate immigrants. Perhaps owing to his own naturalization, Kramer portrays certain American characters in a sympathetic light. As the immigration agent who is a part of a team that regularly raids textile factories for immigrants that needed to be deported, Harrison Ford actually hates doing his job. So when a Mexican woman he caught asks him to take care of her son, he eventually relented and personally brought the kid to her grandparents in Mexico.

As the wife of the corrupt immigration officer, Ashley Judd is a lawyer who wants to adopt a little orphan from Nigeria and at the same is tasked with defending a Bangladeshan teenager (Summer Bishil) who recited a school paper sympathetic to the 9/11 bombers, eventually causing enough stir to expose the illegal status of her family to the Feds and face deportation herself.

There are also plotlines involving a dysfunctional Iranian family that includes a colleague of Ford in the immigration police (the ever dependable Cliff Curtis) and an Asian family (Korean?) that included a rebel without a cause teenager whose brief but critical brush with the law almost cost him his American citizenship.

On an episodic level, the film is engaging enough to merit some moments of your time. After all, the subject of immigration, legal or otherwise, is something that's particularly close to our hearts. And the thing about flicks with ensemble casts and multiple storylines is that there is always at least one subplot worth watching.

But overall, this isn't one of those cases where the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Kramer has prepared an initially appetizing dish but with too many things on his plate, Crossing Over still ends up with some unfinished leftovers.

Watch Crossing Over's trailer here:

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