Sunday 22 April 2012


(Wayne Kramer, 2009)

Based on his early work, Kramer seemed a promising young genre director. Those films - The Cooler and Running Scared - while never particularly original or interesting, were full of pulp energy, good work from actors and solid storytelling. It may be telling that the only truly compelling scene in Crossing Over, his ambitious attempt to make a panoramic, multi-strand real world epic, is the closest to genre material the entire film ever comes. An immigration cop finds himself in a gas station convenience store as it is held up by a bunch of Korean gang-bangers, and once he draws his gun, Kramer pulls out a terrifically gripping scene of thrilling action which is brilliantly put together.
Aside from that, too much here feels like dull tv movie material.
That's a shame, because this is a laudably serious, worthy subject; the varying experiences of illegal immigrants and the government workers who deal with them in modern California. Kramer runs about six separate strands in parallel, allowing them to intersect as the film progresses, contrasting the struggles of a Muslim Pakistani family who stray into the crosshairs of the FBI, with the story of a young Australian Actress sleeping with an Immigration clerk to get a green card, with a young Mexican mother deported and trying to cross back into America and more. Then there are the agents; Harrison Ford's conscience-stricken immigration cop, Ashley Judd's clucky attorney and Cliff Curtis as Ford's partner, battling with his wild younger sister.
It's ambition is part of the problem; none of the stories really gets enough time or weight, meaning that when it reaches the big emotional climax stage, little of it really stings the way it should. That may be partly down to the fact that it was butchered in editing - Sean Penn famously had an entire storyline cut out, meaning he's no longer even in the film - and it was controversially altered to avoid explicit reference to "honour killings" in one narrative strand, but it doesn't explain everything. It's also distractingly contrived, many of the narrative links annoyingly tenuous, filled with easy stereotypes instead of fully-formed characters (the kindly rabbi, the racist classmates, the cocky lawyer etc) and it lacks the vitality and style of Kramer's early work; it looks and sounds a little boring.
There are good things; a few of the scenes have the cheap, undeniable potency of a good pop song in their emotional peaks and troughs, and some of the performances - mainly from the lesser-known cast-members - are terrific, even in the little time devoted to some of these characters.
But generally, this is a missed opportunity, and one that seems to have damaged Kramer's career; he hasn't directed a film since.

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