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Film Review: Crossing Over is Too Ambitious

March 11, 2009

Harrison Ford does not want his family back in Crossing Over, which is written and directed by Wayne Kramer.

Ford’s character, Max Brogan, is terribly unsuited for his job, which involves deporting illegal immigrants working in Southern California.  He is a one-dimensional divorced middle-aged man whose daughter is “26, no 27.”  With so many other seemingly unrelated stories and characters introduced during the first 30 minutes of the movie, we never get the chance to really understand Brogan but then, by the end of the movie, we still don’t care about him.

Crossing Over is structured like Crash and Babel, with a number of different narratives that start to connect as the movie progresses.  Unfortunately . . . Kramer is overly ambitious: by cramming the complexities of immigration into 113 minutes, each narrative loses strength.

The only thing greater than what divides us,” the movie’s trailer tells us, “is the dream we share.”

It’s true, most of the cast want to take advantage of opportunities in the United States: from an Australian actress named Claire Shepard (Alice Eve) who will do almost anything to make it big in Hollywood to Mireya Sanchez (Alice Braga), a Mexican mother working in Southern California who only wants the best for her young son.  We watch as Shepard, Sanchez and others attempt to overcome their own obstacles toward achieving success in the United States.

Without Hollywood, Shepard thinks her career has little room to grow and without the United States, Sanchez fears the boy will not benefit from all this country has to offer.

Good thing Sanchez meets Brogan before she is taken back to Mexico.  Brogan finds her hiding underneath a rack of clothes and reluctantly takes her in.  He has trouble looking into her eyes, which effectively fill the screen with pain and desperation.  Sanchez wants Brogan to find the woman taking care of the boy before he is sent to the streets; Brogan is eventually receptive.

“Everything is a f—king crisis with you,” says one of Brogan’s associates.

Sanchez goes back to Mexico, but later that night Brogan can’t sleep.  It’s 9:07 p.m.  He is awake and back on the trail to find the woman’s son.  Meanwhile, no one can find Sanchez.  With Brogan’s job in immigration services, one must wonder at this point how he retains his sanity: surely this is not the first time he has personalized the case of someone he has helped deport.

Sort through Crossing Over’s confusing bits and you’ll be rewarded with engaging discussion points. Does Gavin Kossef (Jim Sturgess), a singer in a rock band and friend of Shepard, deserve naturalization more than she does?  And if a 15-year-old girl says about the terrorists responsible for 9/11, “You may not like what they had to say, but their voices were heard,” should she be deported?  We explore this last question through Taslima Jahangir (ably acted by Summer Bishil) and her family.

“This isn’t the life of a normal teenager,” says Special Agent Phadkar about Jahangir.  “Everything about her is a red flag.”

What are the limits of freedom of speech?

There are other narrative threads in Crossing Over, but like the movie itself, adequately expressing their stories in this short space would do a disservice to each of them. We will say, however, the movie puts a spin on a character similar to Thao Vang Lor, Clint Eastwood’s costar in Gran Torino.

Ultimately, Crossing Over does not benefit from a satisfying, if prolonged, resolution as in Babel.  Still, all is not lost.  One of the movie’s brightest moments comes with the scene at which more than 100 people are being naturalized.  It should be a celebratory occasion for everyone, but as the camera pans from one character to another, we know what they’ve been through to get there.  The camera zooms out and we see just how many people are attending the ceremonies and wish we could hear their stories, as well.  Just, please, not all at once.

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