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CROSSING OVER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Jim Sturgess, Cliff Curtis, Alice Braga, Alice Eve
Director: Wayne Kramer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: June 9, 2009

“Come home with me.”

“It’s not practical. You know that. You know we can’t make a go of it without status. I’ve got to get legal and so do you.”

Film ***

As a film reviewer who takes his work seriously, nothing annoys me more than the concept of labeling a film as “this year’s so and so”, much like how Juno was sold to audiences as the next Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a lazy form of film criticism that even I have been guilty of in the past. In fact, I’m about to be guilty of it once again, because I don’t think anyone is going to be able to view Crossing Over without making comparisons to Crash.

You could pretty much make a grocery list of the similarities this film has with Paul Haggis’ oscar winning film. Both are set in Los Angeles, have a star-studded cast, and tell many interweaving stories centered around a hard-hitting topic, which is the one element that differentiates the two. Crash dealt with race relations, while the issue at the center of this film is that of illegal immigration.

But apart from the unavoidable comparison, Crossing Over is quite a powerful film in its own right. In spite of a flaw or two, there are so many individual moments that struck me as I watched and stayed with me long after it ended. In fact, it does happen to have a major difference from Crash in that it doesn’t focus on the good and bad qualities of its characters, as the issue of immigration simply has a different effect on people than racism does.

The topic at hand links together several stories all based within L.A., which is captured in a more raw and authentic way than we’re used to seeing. One story involves Max Brogan (Harrison Ford), a veteran immigration officer who’s currently investigating a case involving a sweatshop worker (Alice Braga) who went missing shortly after being taken away being deported. She also has a missing son, whom Brogan attempts to track down and reunite with her.

Another key story involves Claire Shepard (Alice Eve), an aspiring actress from Australia who is having trouble with her green card application getting processed. She gets into a car accident, which at first seems like a blessing in disguise when the driver of the other car, Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), turns out to be in the very profession that can determine if an application has merit or not. Only it isn’t a blessing, as he basically agrees to help her in exchange for sex.

That illicit affair directly affects two other important characters. Claire’s boyfriend, Gavin (Jim Sturgess), is a struggling musician from Britain who is also without a green card, and is intending to pass himself off as a Jewish schoolteacher in order to gain citizenship, in spite of being an atheist. And Cole’s wife, Denise (Ashley Judd), is an immigration defense attorney who has her hands tied with two cases; one involving a young African girl who’s hoping to be picked up by her mother, and the other concerning Taslima (Summer Bishill), a teen from a Bangladesh family threatened with deportation following remarks she made about the 9/11 terrorists during an oral report at her school.

Surprisingly enough, the most intriguing storyline in Crossing Over is that of a murder mystery that develops about midway through. The murder victim happens to be the sister of Brogan’s Iranian-American partner, Hamid (the always fantastic Cliff Curtis). The way this plotline ties together is undeniably effective, not to mention quite surprising.

The film’s most brilliant scene is one that also seems to come out of nowhere, as Hamid finds himself in the middle of a liquor store robbery. The gang holding up the store is using this as an initiation act for a young Korean named Yong (Justin Chon), who’s on the verge of naturalization and been bullied into joining the gang. In this scene, Kramer unleashes some Running Scared level violence before ending it on an unexpectedly profound note.

The one thing that made me want to see the film, in addition to its terrific cast, was that it was the latest offering from writer/director Wayne Kramer, who burst onto the scene in 2003 with the fantastic indie character piece, The Cooler. His last film, the criminally underrated Running Scared, is one of my favorite movies of the decade. Kramer established such a phenomenal filmmaking style in that ferociously violent tale, that I was all too eager to see what he’d come up with next.

With Crossing Over, Kramer has illustrated that, like the very best filmmakers in the business, he is capable of handling multiple genres. At only three films into his career, he has managed to make three films so distinctly different from one another, that you couldn’t believe they were made by the same man. Anyone who can start out with a Vegas-based character study, then progress to make one of the most bloody and violent pieces of pulp cinema ever conceived and now make a huge thought provoking film about such a hot-button topic has to be as diverse as they come, which Kramer certainly is.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of flaws worth mentioning. The first one is mostly a nitpick on my part, but can’t be ignored nonetheless. With Harrison Ford playing an immigration officer, it requires him to speak Spanish in several scenes. Maybe it’s because Ford is one of the great all-American actors that we associate with legendary roles, but his Spanish delivery suggests he learned the language seconds before the cameras were rolling. Whatever the case, it took me out of the film for a bit in spite of the fact that Ford himself delivers a fine performance.

The other flaw is more of a studio mishap. Kramer’s initial cut of the film clocked in at 140 minutes, which he is forced to cut down to the running time at hand. While some storylines are dealt with perfectly, others seem to conclude rather too quickly, leading me to believe that all story angles would’ve been superbly executed had Kramer been allowed to release the version he wanted.

But as it stands, Crossing Over is a worthy and very effective dramatic thriller with terrific performances from the top-notch cast. Shockingly enough, it barely got a theatrical release (has that ever happened for a Harrison Ford movie?), and deserves to be given a second chance on DVD. It’s the first film I’ve seen to deal with the issue of illegal immigration in a very serious manner and with great detail.

Video ****

The film’s look is as equally effective as its story, and the anamorphic presentation on this Weinstein Company release takes great advantage of the stirring cinematography of James Whitaker (who also shot Running Scared). Like I said earlier, L.A. is photographed in an ultra-realistic way through many helicopter shots, and the amazing image quality brings the darker shades of the city to vivid life, you can’t help but feel like you’re actually there. Several desert-based settings also deliver a dynamic, sun baked feel. Extremely well-handled from beginning to end!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix serves this mostly dialogue driven piece tremendously well. Every spoken word is delivered perfectly clear. The presentation also serves some bonuses in the form of Mark Isham’s effective music score to the film, and even an intense action sequence late in the film, which offers some damn fine dynamic sound.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

For me, Crossing Over is easily one of the year’s most underrated films. Though it will be difficult for most people to watch this without making comparisons to Crash, it does manage to deliver its own potent effect. Wayne Kramer, a South African himself, is a filmmaker fit to make a commentary on illegal immigration and the final result does indeed show it.

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