Born and raised in London to an American mother, I recently moved to New York City to relish in all of the privileges that US citizenship has to offer. I have to say, having seen Wayne Kramer’s latest film Crossing Over, I have never been happier or more appreciative to have been spared the trial of obtaining a visa, the anxiety of securing a green card or the crushing loss of faith in humanity, when encountering the mean-spirited nature of cynical immigration officials.
If the film has a didactic purpose, it is to proffer a lesson in the irony that a country built upon the straining backs of immigrants is now so reluctant to accommodate more. Set in Los Angeles, Crossing Over is a series of vignettes that offer a glimpse into the lives of various immigrants of assorted nationalities, struggling to secure a legitimate place in the ‘Promised Land.’ The movie gives a stark look at the dour realities of such an effort, particularly when you are trying to cut corners. There is Taslima Jahangir, a disenchanted fifteen year old, whose sympathetic school project on the 9/11 perpetrators lands her and her ‘alien’ family on the wrong side of the CIA; there is Claire Shepard (Alice Eve), an Aussie actress wanna-be, forced to become the sex slave of INS slime, Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta) for the sake of that all-important green card; there’s Mireya Sanchez, who pays the “wrong coyote” to bring her across the border, and breathes her last on the barren dustiness of the Californian hills; young Yong Kim who reluctantly finds himself entrenched in the gang culture of Korea Town, you get the rather grim picture.
All the characters strive to dig their heels deep into American soil, while evading the ever-looming shadow of the INS, immigration cops, and Border Patrol. The film’s sympathetic angle is set-against the ‘pitiless’ attitude of Immigration officials and the Office of Counter Terrorism, who rip families apart, engage in fraud and corruption, and generally conduct themselves in such a manner as makes you want to rip your follicles out in despair.
Thank God for ‘good cop,’ Harrison Ford, who brings a quiet integrity to the role of Max Brogan, an immigration cop whose years on the job haven’t hardened him to the plight of the illegals he busts in sweatshops, and ships back to Mexico. Or the rather yummy (sorry, it has to be said) Cliff Curtis, whose character’s heart-felt monologue about citizenship, and ‘American-ness’ would draw tears from a stone. They are just two in a lengthy list of impressive performances exhibited in this film: Ray Liotta brings astounding dimension to his slippery and potentially two-dimensional character, in a slightly sympathetic scene of stinging self-awareness. And the relatively unknown Alice Eve is frighteningly convincing, as she portrays with grimy authenticity, a Machiavellian scenario of prostituting oneself for the greater good that most women would shudder over.
The film has received a lot of bad press, with one reviewer even exclaiming, “It is so bad, only God knows why they decided to release it so close to the Oscars!” but I remain uncertain as to why. Sure, in its first half hour the film could be accused of being a tad confusing, with a multi-character canvas and multi-tiered story-line. It could also be charged with forcing unnatural-feeling connections between the characters – the lives of these characters are meant to intersect by accident or fate, but it does take waaay too long to see the links, and as a result you can sense the manipulative machinations of an over-active editor, working to deliver a calculated plot.
But having said all of that, Crossing Over remains an important and germane film of our time. Kramer takes on a hot, ungainly topic in the American Dream and the nightmare of achieving it, and still succeeds in giving it a pulse and a vigor that makes it gripping. Kramer also deserves accolades for his clear research and his reluctance to resort to stereotyping: he presents his immigrants not only as poor, working-class Mexicans, but as a distinct representation of classes and nationalities. Yes, it might be Crash or Traffic’s slower-moving descendant, but it is one worth seeing.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Cliff Curtis, Jim Sturgess
Director: Wayne Kramer
Runtime: 140 mins
Distributor: The Weinstein Company