Crossing Over will not escape comparisons to Crash. Like the Oscar winner, it is a series of L.A.-based interconnected storylines, all heavily contrived, pitting “the system” against individuals struggling to survive it or circumvent it, one way or another. In Crossing Over, the central theme is personal compromise. As it takes up stories of immigration and border crossing, the film raises questions:how far are we willing to bend the rules to get what we desire?What will we risk to uphold our own values? How do we determine the worth of the thing we want?
Immigration Enforcement officer Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) has a reputation for being soft on the subjects he apprehends, accused by his fellow officers of always being up to “some humanitarian shit” (like getting medical assistance for an old man complaining of chest pain) and ridiculed for giving out more Orders of Recognizance (O.R.s) than anyone else.During a sewing factory raid with his (naturalized) Iranian partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis), Max discovers Mireya Sanchez (Alice Braga) hiding behind a garment rack.As he pulls her out and starts herding her towards the bus that will take them to San Pedro Immigration Detention Center, she starts pleading with him in Spanish:she has a young son at a babysitter’s upstairs.She doesn’t ask to be let go, but rather tries to give Max money to pay the sitter so she doesn’t put the boy out on the street.Moved by her plight but under scrutiny by the other officers, he refuses both the money and the note she’s written, with the sitter’s address and the boy’s name, mumbling repeatedly, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”
But you know he will.
Max’s ethical and emotional struggles don’t offer much in the way of insights into the nationalism, racism, political agendas, and paranoia that fuel U.S. anxieties around immigration. The film surrounds him with ethnic stereotypes:the Muslim cab driver, the Korean dry cleaner, the Mexican seamstress, the misogynist Iranian patriarch.To its credit, Crossing Over does attempt to flesh out such caricatures by showing them in familial contexts, with varying levels of success. When we see Hamid’s sister Zahra (Melody Khazae) dressing provocatively, having an affair with her married Latino boss, and overtly defying her family’s expectations, we know there’s an imminent “honor killing” and now must endure the film’s heavy-handed machinations until it happens.
Crossing Over offers a smarter storyline regarding Australian illegals Gavin (Jim Sturgess) and Claire (Alice Eve). He’s a musician and she’s an aspiring actress.Both are beautiful, charming, and most significantly, white (and therefore, non-threatening and desirable).They are not at risk of being rounded up in an immigration raid like Mireya and not mocked like Muslim schoolgirl Tazlima (Summer Bishil).They’re playing the system, desperate to “get status.“Gavin gets the head of the Jewish school where he’s teaching to lie that he’s legal so he can keep his job; Claire gets into a fender bender with Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), who happens to work for Immigration and Customs and says he’ll work out a “trade” in exchange for her green card.When Gavin finds out, he’s horrified, never seeing the irony that he’s doing the same thing in a sense, passing himself off as a devout Jew when he is, as Claire puts it earlier in the film, “like, an actual atheist.”
Her dilemma and subsequent victimization are similar to Zahra’s, Mireya’s and even Tazlima’s. All these women’s bodies serve as currency—to get across a border or get green card, to break out from a perceived oppression or to bear the signifiers of religious tradition. All suffer for selling themselves. But Claire, beautiful and white and inconspicuous, suffers least.