Hollywood is trying to tug at your heartstrings over illegal immigration. Again.
Last year’s Oscar-nominated film, The Visitor, told the emotional tale of an illegal immigrant chased from his home despite the protestations of an aged college professor. And now we have Crossing Over, the new Crash-like drama about a disparate group of illegal immigrants trying to make a home in the U.S. Or, as the film’s creators might call them, undocumented workers.
But while The Visitor tells a compelling story with its messages neatly interwoven into the narrative, Crossing Over wears its intentions all over its sleeve, jacket, and trousers.
The main story involves Max Brogan (Harrison Ford), a disgruntled immigration officer who doesn’t relish breaking into sweatshops and carting off illegals. During one raid he takes pity on a Mexican mom (Alice Braga) who fears her capture will leave her son alone and unprotected. So Brogan tends to the child himself, a noble effort but one undermined by the lack of depth given to Ford’s character. Just what drives Max to work as an immigration official by day and then attempt to undo that damage at night and on weekends?
The Mexican immigrant isn’t the only illegal featured here. The story also introduces us to Claire (Alice Eve), an Australian actress looking to follow in the footsteps of Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts. But when her green card paperwork gets lost in a bureaucratic haze, she luckily crashes her car into Cole Franklin’s (Ray Liotta ). Franklin just happens to work on immigration cases. He can make her green card a reality if she becomes his sexual concubine for two months. Claire also has a boyfriend, a sensitive singer-songwriter (Jim Sturgess ), who is doing his own illegal maneuvering to stay in the country. He’s pretending to be a Jewish scholar in order to fast track his green card status. It’s the most original plot line in the film, even if it makes as little sense as the other sob stories. And Cole is married to Denise (Ashley Judd), an immigration defense lawyer. When she’s not looking like she cares for the downtrodden more than anyone else on earth, Judd is paying visits to a young African girl waiting to find a foster family.
There’s also Brogan’s partner, Hamid (Cliff Curtis, supplying the film‘s most natural performance), an Iranian-American whose parents are about to take the citizenship oath. And then there are two Korean brothers also on the fast track to citizenship, although they don’t appear to take that honor seriously.
Crossing Over asks us to embrace these hard-luck immigrants, warts and all. All they want is their shot at the American dream. But it‘s hard to rally around these fledgling citizens. Just try identifying with Bangladeshi teen Taslima (Summer Bishil of Towelhead), who defends the 9/11 hijackers during an incendiary speech at her high school. That nasty bit of business is leaked, and suddenly FBI agents swarm her home and learn she’s not in the country legally. Boohoo, even though the case built against her is wafer thin.
Like Crash, Crossing Over can’t help but entertain for short stretches. It’s hard not to be taken in by the melodrama, even if one out of every two notes rings false. And bravo to Ford for taking a smaller role in an independent feature. It’s exactly the right path he should follow, since the mainstream movies offered to him lately barely tap his potential.
However, this character is also beneath Ford, and he can’t give Brogan a life beyond the stilted script. He’s too quiet and reflective, without us sensing there’s something deeper at play here. It’s a problem the erstwhile Indiana Jones has had of late, underplaying to the point of drowsiness. Maybe Ford should go the Al Pacino route at this point in his career, over-emoting until the cords in his neck stand out. At least we’ll know he’s on screen.
Crossing Over is rarely content to let each scene breathe. Instead, the emotions are ratcheted up beyond realistic expectations. That’s particularly galling during a liquor store hold-up that awkwardly segues into a speech about what an honor it is to be a U.S. citizen. Deep down, Crossing Over loves America as much as Sean Hannity, for the freedoms it offers its citizens and its noble principles. But it’s hard to say how scrapping the current immigration policies will help. How can any nation, even one as great as the U.S., support a massive influx of immigrants with no checks or balances?
The film has no easy solutions, although it ends with a twist that inadvertently undermines its narrative. The surprise reminds us that some cultures may not blend smoothly with the American way of life.
All the more reason to embrace a sane immigration policy, not open borders.