It's no secret that Wayne Kramer's "Crossing Over" has been battered with controversy and behind-the-scenes squabbling during its extensive road to release. Indeed, the film that finally managed to make it to DVD is a severely compromised piece of work. Even without prior knowledge of producers threatening directors and stars threatening studios, "Crossing Over" handles like a brittle feature that's been rethought time and again, starting off as an ambitious screenplay tackling the hot potato debate of illegal immigration and ending up a glorified Lifetime movie that somehow lucked into a stellar cast.
The battle of immigration is fought every single day in Los Angeles. For ICE agent Max Brogan (Harrison Ford), brutal sweatshop raids have led to the deportation of a single mother (Alice Braga) frantic to find her young son, leading to conflicts with an Iranian partner (Cliff Curtis) desperate to control his Americanized sister; a British musician (Jim Sturgess) hopes to pass himself off as a Jewish schoolteacher for citizenship, while his Australian lover (Alice Eve) engages in a sexual arrangement with an immigration bureaucrat (Ray Liotta) for a green card; sympathetic defense attorney Denise Frankel (Ashley Judd) comes to the aid of Bangladeshi teen Taslima (Summer Bishill) after remarks made at school supporting the 9/11 terrorists end up threatening her family with deportation; and a Korean teen (Justin Chon) on the cusp of naturalization finds the pressures of gangbanger life shoving him down the wrong path.
I've made little secret of my distrust of Kramer as a filmmaker, a twitchy feeling amplified by his last feature, the artistically bankrupt button-pusher "Running Scared." Kramer has never struck me as a gifted visionary, but there's an effort apparent early on in the "Crossing Over" writing that reveals the filmmaker setting down his provocateur stance, reaching out to mount a large-scale drama founded in fierce emotional reactions and, shockingly enough, approachable human characterizations.
A quick glance could sum up "Crossing Over" as a wheezy "Crash" redux, following a hornet's nest of characters all in combat with the anxiety of life and injustice. The battleground is Los Angeles, and the subject is immigration and America, from those who sneak in hoping to find fresh opportunity to those who are rooted in the country and dare to challenge its melting pot ideals. Kramer delivers a mammoth cross section of perspectives and temperaments to help embellish the narrative, with most of the meditation centered on Max and his growing suspicion of his partner. Because Kramer lacks a certain refinement to his filmmaking gifts, the determination of the material to assume a flag-rippling profundity fails miserably, turning most of the subplots into cartoons to make their ultimate point. The worst offender is Taslima and her pro-9/11 nightmare of free speech. The arc is played for maximum hysterics, aching to hit lofty emotional heights as the character's life is destroyed by her anti-American attitude. Kramer goes for the broad red stripe of upheaval to make his points, choosing volume over sophistication to best rivet down larger concepts of American freedom and personal violation.
The rest of "Crossing Over" hits all the sleaze and desperation a film dealing with immigration could ever want. Kramer fumbles the crucial juggling of characters, with the needed development of some peripheral figures (Ashley Judd is a great example) abruptly abandoned to maintain a familiar tempo of elementary intrigue and suspense. It's impossible to know where Kramer's limitations end and studio interference begins, but the most obviously tampered subplot is the central murder case. With Max bearing down on his suspicions, "Crossing Over" seems prepared to pull back the curtain on shocking revelations of Middle Eastern cultural horrors. The final product softens the blow to an absurd degree (presumably turning an honor killing into a simple, unimaginative crime of passion), adding to the already irritatingly pulled-punch vibe of the piece.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), the "Crossing Over" DVD works diligently to project the varied environments of the narrative. From desert landscapes to claustrophobic city scenes, the image quality keeps a steady rhythm, only tripping over a few instances of inky black levels and minor EE intrusions. Colors are solidly maintained, while skintones preserve the ideal level of detail.
"Crossing Over" is a film rooted in mounds of dialogue, leaving the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix to cleanly process conversation and accusation. It's an uneventful track, reliably reproducing varied atmospherics and critical verbal exchanges. Night club sequences retain a pleasant echo, and scoring cues never intrude on the dialogue.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The multi-character approach creates a convincing carnival of desperation in "Crossing Over," yet the final product lacks an unrelenting tide of agitation that would've sharpened its focus. "Crossing Over" is either faulty or defanged (you pick), but the ultimate outcome consists primarily of tepid passes at conflict, sermonizing, and betrayal. The subject of immigration is much too substantial to be treated as kitten play, leaving such thespian promise out to rot with material that suggests great intellectual stimulation, but only delivers yawns.