Crossing Over. Wayne Kramer, director & script. Starring: Harrison Ford (Max Brogan), Ray Liotta (Cole Frankel), Ashley Judd (Denise Frankel), Jim Sturgess (Gavin Kossef), Cliff Curtis (Hamid Baraheri), Alice Eve (Claire Shepard), Alice Braga (Mireya Sanchez), Justin Chon (Yong Kim), Summer Bishil (Taslima Jahangir), Ogechi Egonu (Alike).
An ensemble film set in Los Angeles dealing with immigration into the United States, Crossing Over inevitably will draw comparisons with Crash and, to some extent, Babel and Traffic. South African Wayne Kramer, who made a short film with the same title years ago and is now an American citizen, can fairly claim that his film is quite personal. And yet, the years Kramer spent getting the film financed and the fact that the notoriously interfering Weinsteins ended up being the producers — and “helped” to edit the final cut — prompt one to wonder what Crossing Over might have been like had it been made as a low budget indie a decade ago.
One thing. It would have been made before 9/11, the defining moment for American policy on foreign matters. I remember an American friend saying to me soon afterwards, “I thought all of the rest of the world loved us. Now I know that many of them hate us.” An overstatement, of course, but — dare I say it? — typically American.
Though Crossing Over embraces the American way of life, it does so with reservations. In the most obvious 9/11 story among the many disparate tales woven through the film, a teenage Muslim girl Taslima is jeered by her fellow high school students because of an essay she reads in which she evidenced some empathy for the suicide bombers who destroyed the Twin Towers. Taslima’s story unfolds nightmarishly: the F.B.I. arrests and eventually deports her as a “suspicious” alien, causing her Bangladeshi family to break up, with one parent leaving the US with her while the other is left to remain to raise the rest of the children by himself.
Yet, Taslima leaves weeping, still wanting to stay in the States. Another woman, an Aussie actress named Claire, finds herself the victim of sexual blackmail. She accepts the tawdry deal offered to her by a skuzzy immigration bureaucrat who can guarantee her a green card if she submits to his advances. Said officer — Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta) — is married to a very nice immigration attorney, Denise (Ashley Judd), who wants to adopt Alike, a sweet African orphan whose parents have died of AIDS. And who does Alike meet in the half-way house where immigrants are held awaiting deportation or acceptance into the US? Why Taslima, of course, who tells her bedtime stories.
The main tale amongst these twisting anecdotes involves aging immigration cop Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) who is sympathetic to the Mexicans and other unfortunate “illegals” he is forced to capture and imprison. It’s Max who solves the mystery behind the honour murder of an attractive rebellious Iranian woman whose brother, Hamid, is his partner.
If all these tales feel vaguely novelette-ish and stereotypical, they are — but that could have been the case with Crash and Babel, too. The difference is that Haggis in Crash and Inarritu in Babel invested enough time in the characters to make them come alive. Kramer may have picked too many stories to tell — or perhaps more complex scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
More interesting is Kramer’s message in the film, which seems to be “America is a hard place to live in — but it’s better than anywhere else in the world.” As a Canadian, I don’t agree. But Crossing Over does make you think; I wish the final product was as good as Kramer’s intentions.