Friday, April 10, 2009

Crossing Over

Under Arrest

Like Crash, Fast Food Nation and Babel before it, Crossing Over consists of multiple storylines bound together by a common theme examined, sometimes with just a few characters straddling across the narrative threads to link them up explicitly. Writer-director Wayne Kramer examines the issues behind the illegal immigrant problem in USA who are either trying to lay low in avoiding the law, or trying their best to gain legal residency with each experiencing different challenges that lie ahead in their quest.

And it's quite ambitious for Kramer to try and pull off no less than seven parallel threads in the film, which to a certain extent I felt was largely successful, despite some being almost peripheral if not for the presence of a recognized star. Anchored by Harrison Ford as Max Brogan, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, the film weaves in and out of the different threads without feeling too forced, or the need for some compulsory and carefully designed moments to link the stories up intricately. Sometimes like the six degrees of separation, the film captures the fact that we don't have full details of that web of links, and it will feel very artificial if everyone knew everyone else, or if one event would impact severely on another.

In any case, each of the storylines were engaging enough, some employing deep emotions to argue their case, while others even had to build to a crescendo of all out action, such as a supermarket shootout (one of the nicely executed ones I've seen). There's an illegal Mexican woman (a very short role by Alice Braga) who begs Ford's Max to look after her young son in the care of unfriendly relatives, a Jewish musician (Jim Sturgess) who's waiting to qualify for residency and willing to do just anything to get there, his Australian girlfriend (Alice Eve) and Hollywood actress wannabe who had granted 2 months worth of on-demand sexual favours to an Immigration official (Ray Liotta) in exchange for a green card, whose wife (Ashley Judd) wants to adopt a child placed in a detention centre, who meets an Iranian girl (Summer Bishil whose essay failed to condemn the terrorists of 9/11 and gotten her and her family into hot soup. Then there's a Korean family who is waiting to be naturalized whose eldest son got involved with thugs (ala G0ran Torino rites of passage style), and another ICE agent (Cliff Curtis) whose family cannot stand their estranged sister whom they feel is a disgrace of their values, tradition and custom by adopting the lifestyle of Americans, yet strangely ironic as they too pursue to be American citizens.

Phew, and all this with a little murder mystery thrown into the mix as well. It's about how one aspires to live in a country, yet uncompromising in one's position to adopt and adapt to the new environment. Which brings about some xenophobia, especially if one's too different from the rest, and things are made worst with the citizens unwilling to understand and lend assistance in assimilation to a new country and its idiosyncrasies.

But what seemed to be a common theme here, is how power can be either used to do what's probably morally right, versus abusing it for personal gain. Given three of the lead characters here are law enforcement or in responsible positions in government agencies, it's easy to abuse privilege, and it's nothing new too, even in local context, where sexual favours get traded for leniency or the closing of an eye pertaining to illegal workers, or those here without the proper papers. And since the law is fixed (and sometimes perverse by those who interpret it), and justice blind, I suppose there are times we may be compelled to lend a hand to a stranger out of nothing but on humanitarian grounds, in doing what's right and decent for a fellow human being.

Crossing Over presents many of such situations and while it may be a mixed bag in its narrative, it certainly pushes the right buttons with its star-studded ensemble cast in making the audience think about, empathize with, and examine if the issues presented could have existed in the local context, with similar challenges in the treatment of those who are illegal immigrants.

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