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January 2010

Crossing Over

cast: Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Jim Sturgess, and Cliff Curtis

director: Wayne Kramer

109 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Ian Sales

Crossing Over

In March 2003, America's immigration and naturalisation service became immigration and customs enforcement. It's a telling change of name. No longer would the US authorities assist the country's visitors in their quest to become citizens of the 'land of opportunity'. Now, it was a war, against those who would take advantage of the 'land of the free'. INS would no longer offer a service; as ICE, it would police. In Crossing Over, Hollywood shows how immigration and customs enforcement operates. It doesn't make for a pretty picture.

The film is structured as a series of interlocking stories - with shared characters and shared resolutions. The film ends with the oath of allegiance ceremony, the last step toward becoming a US citizen. The emotion is poured on with a bucket - the ceremony is even described earlier in the movie as almost a transcendental moment. It is, of course, the culmination of all the immigrants have done to remain in the country and so, for them, it is also the resolution of their stories. Unfortunately, everything that has gone before in Crossing Over makes a mockery of their ambition.

Max Brogan is a special agent for ICE. On a raid on a sweatshop, illegal Mexican immigrant Mirya Sanchez (Alice Braga) begs him during her arrest to see that her young son is collected from his baby-sitter and not put out on the street. Initially, Brogan ignores Sanchez, but his conscience nags him. He learns she has already been deported, so he picks up her son and drives him across the border to his grandparents in Tijuana. But Sanchez has returned to the US - illegally, of course - and promptly disappeared.

Brogan's partner in ICE is Hamid Baraheri, a naturalised Iranian immigrant. His father is about to be made a US citizen, but his youngest sister - born in the US - is causing the family problems with her wanton behaviour. Then she is found murdered in a motel room with her married lover.

Claire Shepard is a wannabe actress from Australia, in the US on a visit visa. When she lands a part in a soap opera, she applies for a work visa... but her paperwork has been lost in the post. While pulling away from the immigration office, she hits a car driven by Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), a supervisor in ICE. He blackmails Claire - two months of sex for a green card.

Claire's friend Gavin Kossef is a British musician, also hoping to convert his visit visa to a work visa. He decides to play the 'religion card', and claims he is in the US to further his Judaic studies by working at a local Jewish school.

Taslima Jahangir is the 15-year-old daughter of a Bengali taxi driver who has settled illegally in the US. A devout Muslim, one day at school she writes an essay about 9/11, and in it she states she understands why the terrorists were driven to commit their attack, and that what they did was not the act of cowards. The next day, the family is raided by ICE and FBI agents, and Taslima is taken into custody.

Yong Kim is a Korean teenager, about to be naturalised with his family. But he is mixed up with a Korean gang, and they want him to rob a convenience store with them. He does... and it all goes horribly wrong.

Crossing Over is by no means a cheerful film. By the end of it, you're not cheering ICE for their sterling work, but sympathising with its victims, because, quite frankly, it shows the US authorities in a less than flattering light. Brogan is perhaps the most sympathetic character on the authorities' side, but he is mocked by his peers for his compassion. Frankel's scheme backfires. Kossef manages to game the system. Taslima is deported. Yong Kim catches a lucky break. Hamid's sister was the victim of an 'honour killing' (while clear from the story, the 'honour' aspect was apparently toned down after complaints by the national Iranian American council).

It's probably no surprise that director Kramer is himself an immigrant, and was born in South Africa. All the same, I'm surprised Crossing Over - based on Kramer's short film of the same title - was ever green-lighted. Some of the characters are trying to cheat their way to legal status - one fails, one succeeds. Taslima is sorely abused by the US authorities, but Sanchez is a victim of her own circumstances. Hamid and his family are US citizens, but do not share their adopted homeland's values. Yong Kim has adopted the wrong set of American values, but is rescued before he destroys himself and his family.

Crossing Over doesn't exactly affirm good old American values. If this is the 'American dream', then there's a terrible cost to pay for it. Of course, Crossing Over is far from even-handed, but then hard luck stories make for more drama. Still, this film is a well-played, thoughtful piece and worth seeing.

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