Dir/scr: Wayne Kramer. US. 2008. 113mins.
Trying to put a human face on the plight of undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles, Crossing Over is an unsteady balancing act of bleeding-heart melodrama, crime thriller, and multi-thread ensemble piece in the vein of Crash or Babel. Writer-director Wayne Kramer's ambitious third feature has experienced a bumpy journey to the screen, due to supposed post-production disagreements and the removal of Sean Penn's character, but while the finished product is by no means a disaster, it does bear the marks of a film whose lofty aspirations have been tarnished by uneven storytelling and simplistic moral conclusions.
Opening in limited release in the US on February 27, Crossing Over will hope to ride the coattails of its veteran star Harrison Ford who remains a sizable marquee draw. Adult audiences who appreciated the crisscrossing storylines and sober thematic concerns of Babel, Crash or Traffic may be intrigued, but the Weinstein Company's modest distribution strategy suggests that expectations are decidedly low-key.
Crossing Over tells the occasionally-intersecting stories of immigration agent Max Brogan (Ford), his Iranian partner Hamid Baraheri (Curtis), British musician Gavin Kossef (Sturgess) and his Australian actress girlfriend Claire Shepard (Eve), and defence attorney Denise Frankel (Judd) and her immigration-applications adjudicator husband Cole (Liotta). The murder of Baraheri's sister Zahra (Khazae) and the deportation of a Mexican illegal immigrant (Braga) cause Brogan to rethink the merits of his immigration enforcement job.
Shot in 2007, Crossing Over was delayed because of rumoured creative differences between writer-director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) and the Weinstein Company over the film's final cut. In addition, Sean Penn's side character was excised. Regardless of that behind-the-scenes drama, Crossing Over takes a page from several recent issue-driven ensemble pieces, eschewing straightforward narrative for intertwining storylines that represent different perspectives on the knotty debate over illegal immigration. Based on a short film he made in the mid-'90s, Crossing Over wants to demonstrate the complexity of the issue, and yet Kramer's humanistic tone too easily divides the characters into black-and-white categories of good and evil.
Except for Harrison Ford's kind-hearted agent and Ashley Judd's crusading lawyer, Crossing Over's Americans tend to be xenophobic or exploitative, while the non-Anglo foreigners are largely helpless souls at the mercy of the United States' immigration laws. The film works best when it breaks away from these stereotypes, but Kramer's attempts to humanize undocumented immigrants mostly result in liberal hand-wringing that offers little insight.
Crossing Over is most compelling when focusing on two white illegal immigrants who display noticeable dramatic shading, the British musician Gavin and his Australian girlfriend Claire. The former exaggerates his Jewish roots in an effort to convince the authorities while Claire submits to Cole's sexual advances in exchange for a green card. The actors are up to the task of portraying these flawed, sympathetic characters; Sturgess is likable as a good guy willing to scheme to stay in America, and Eve reveals a potent chilliness as this beautiful, desperate woman.
For most audiences, Crossing Over's biggest draw will be Harrison Ford, who slips into his ensemble role with relative ease. Although his character provides the film's overriding arc, Ford plays this subdued, terse man with Eastwood-like restraint. After being a star for more than three decades, Ford shows some real grit and subtlety playing a soft-spoken character, although the film's forced big-showdown finale finds him resorting to his usual tough-guy crustiness.
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