Harrison Ford as Max Brogan
Ray Liotta as Cole Frankel
Ashley Judd as Denise Frankel
Jim Sturgess as Gavin Kossef
Cliff Curtis as Hamid Baraheri
Alice Braga as Mireya Sanchez
Alice Eve as Claire Shepard
Summer Bishil as Taslima Jahangir
Jacqueline Obradors as Special Agent Phadkar
Justin Chon as Yong Kim
Melody Khazae as Zahra Baraheri
Merik Tadros as Farid Baraheri
Marshall Manesh as Sanjar Baraheri
Nina Nayebi as Minoo Baraheri
Naila Azad as Rokeya Jahangir
Directed by Wayne Kramer
The effectiveness of Wayne Kramer's look at how immigration laws affect a diverse group of California residents is somewhat diluted by the fact that it's a hot topic that's clearly cooled off.
In California, there are literally thousands of foreigners living illegally, whether they've crossed the border from Mexico, escaped from war-torn countries or just came to L.A. to try to make their fame and fortune. Immigration agent Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) sees all kinds, as he and his partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis) take down operations that use illegals to work cheaply. British musician Gavin Kossef (Jim Sturgess) and his friend, Aussie actress Claire Shepard (Alice Eve), are finding other means to get their green cards, but for 13-year-old Taslima Jahangir (Summer Bishel), she learns that the rights given to those in this country can quickly be taken away if you say the wrong thing.
Once you get past the unfortunate similarity in title it has to the long-running show from purported psychic John Edward, Wayne Kramer's third movie tackles a subject matter that might have been considered more timely and topical two or even three years ago - which ironically is about how long it's been delayed.
The long and short of it is that Wayne Kramer wanted to explore the way the country's immigration laws affect different types of people, something he does using the tried and true model that worked so well for "Crash" and other ensemble dramas. Since this movie began filming almost two years ago, dozens of films have dealt with the issues faced by Mexican illegals from Richard Linklater's adaptation of "Fast Food Nation" to dramas like "Under the Same Moon" and "Trade." That aspect of the immigration experience makes up a very small part of Kramer's film, which deals with the issues faced by those trying to get legal status in our country at varying levels.
Much of the film revolves around Harrison Ford's Max Brogan, the immigration officer with a conscience--there's an hour-long TV drama that can be made from that concept alone--who becomes obsessed with a Mexican woman (Alice Braga) he encounters during one of his team's regular sweatshop raids. Brogan's partner Hammid (Cliff Curtis) is from an Iranian family who has mainly become nationalized, although Hammid's younger sister has been outcast for her partying behavior. When she turns up dead, the movie suddenly changes gears into a murder mystery about Brogan trying to find her killer.
At the same time, other stories are taking place, one that involves Jim Sturgess as a British musician named Gavin trying to use the "Jewish card" to stay in the country, while his Australian friend Claire (Alice Eve) is negotiating with immigration bureaucrat Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta) by giving him her body, a decision that has serious emotional repercussions on both of them, as well as her ability to pursue a relationship with Gavin. Sadly, these are the characters white Western audiences may be able to relate to the best, because they're more like us, which essentially defeats the purpose of Kramer's exercise.
Summer Bishil from "Towelhead" appears as a young Muslim girl who gives a lecture to her class seemingly supporting the 9/11 terrorists, putting her on the government's radar, as they call into question her own family's legal status to remain in the country. The final subplot involves a Chinese teenager coerced into joining a gang, a story that's far too similar to the storyline in "Gran Torino" to have much effect.
With so many different characters and stories going on at once, you'd think it would be impossible to lose interest or get bored, but the familiar ground these stories cover makes them less interesting. As is usually the case with films, the characters are vaguely separated into good guys and bad guys, though surrounding them with enough grey area that one can rarely take sides. For instance, are we allowed to empathize with Ray Liotta's character when he admits to have fallen for the beautiful Aussie who he's been sleeping with, knowing full well she's been using him just as much to get her green card? After all, it was her choice to go that route, so the more time the film spends on their relationship, the more false her emotional outbursts feel.
Harrison Ford isn't quite as bad as he was in "Firewall," although he does tend to growl a lot in between acts of kindness, delivering a performance somewhere between Tommy Lee Jones and "Dirty Harry" Clint Eastwood. His main storyline involves him trying to reunite a single Mexican mother with her son, a storyline that's nearly forgotten once his partner's sister turns up dead. Even though he is "Max Brogan: INS Agent with a Conscience"--catchy, huh?--one never really believes he might get that invested in any of the people he meets on his job. He's still a part of a government system that destroys families in the name of National Security.
By comparison, Ashley Judd's character, an immigration defense lawyer, is deeply underused, shown with one of her young charges then showing up later in connection with another character, but otherwise, serving very little purpose to the overall story.
Kramer isn't a bad filmmaker by any stretch of the imagination and "Crossing Over" looks far superior to his previous film even if he overuses the aerial establishing shot of the film's locations to the point where it becomes distracting. He does his best to keep things moving, though the writing is generally flat and the performances, while passable, fail to create the emotional resonance needed for the viewer to become invested in the characters, even with a number of deliberately emotional scenes.
As might be expected, the various characters do start to drift together in a way that's far from coincidental, and that's when things start to get slightly ridiculous. The film's ending sends seriously mixed messages, and it's hard not to smirk when characters start talking about how becoming an American citizen is akin to a spiritual experience.
The Bottom Line:
It's somewhat of a shame that this movie wasn't released a year ago when the material might have seemed more relevant and timely, but there are enough problems in character development and storytelling that it probably wouldn't have made that much of a difference. Smaller dramas like "The Visitor" are far more effective at getting into the emotional intricacies of the immigration system. As it were, this politically-minded ensemble drama's obvious attempts at being "Traffic" or "Crash" barely gets out of the garage before it stalls in neutral.