Not Born in the U.S.A.

rexcrossing over 2h Not Born in the U.S.A. Crossing Over
Running time 113 minutes
Written and
directed by Wayne Kramer
Starring Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Alice Eve, Alice Braga, Cliff Curtis, Jim Sturgess, Summer Bishil

Crossing Over is another of those multilayered movies with myriad plots cross-cut editorially in ways that sometimes seem confusing until they intersect at odd angles to address a common underlying theme. Here, the theme is U.S. immigration, legal and otherwise, approached from several viewpoints on both sides of the law that unfold in fragmented episodes simultaneously. Tying unrelated short stories together under one unifying umbrella is an overworked conceit that includes everything from Robert Altman’s Nashville to such widely acclaimed films as 21 Grams, Babel and Crash. This jigsaw of the desperate and disenfranchised who try to cross over America’s borders in search of a better life lends urgency to the genre, but remains mostly an excuse to line up a diverse group of actors in the cinematic equivalent of a gym workout.

Writer-director Wayne Kramer threads the pieces together, making valid points about the tragedies and triumphs of the U.S. immigration agencies that tie up the lives of desperate people in a never-ending tangle of red tape. And he gets uniformly terrific performances from a fine cast playing pawns in the game of sex, violence and betrayal that diminishes the noble tradition of naturalized citizenship. Now that his blond, pumpkin-tinted hair from the last Indiana Jones movie has grown out gray and natural again, Harrison Ford makes a perfectly cast veteran cop with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Los Angeles, whose conscience makes him empathetic to the plight of a Mexican factory worker (Alice Braga) arrested with no papers or work permits and an underage child to support. While he risks his own job to rescue the little boy and personally drive him back to his grandparents in Mexico, another government customs officer who judges visa applications (Ray Liotta) abuses his power by promising a green card to a pretty Australian Nicole Kidman wannabe named Claire (Alice Eve) in exchange for sexual slavery. Her boyfriend Gavin, a British rock musician (Jim Sturgess), goes another route, faking Hebrew credentials to work as a rabbi and winning the sympathy of a real rabbi, who agrees to back him as a teacher. Other stories revolve around a bright, innocent Iranian schoolgirl turned into the F.B.I. task force on terrorism by her own school principal, and deported, for writing an essay about the reasons for jihad; a Korean teenager who robs a convenience store the night before his naturalization ceremony for U.S. citizenship; a hardworking defense attorney for illegal immigrants (Ashley Judd) who is the sexual predator’s wife; a murdered Iranian girl, who worked in a print shop that copies forged visas and work permits, who happens to be the sister of the naturalized L. A. cop (Cliff Curtis) who is Harrison Ford’s friend and partner on the force. As the Los Angeles Convention Center fills with proud, hopeful immigrants taking their oaths of allegiance to become American citizens, the movie juxtaposes the stories of some who made it and others who didn’t, interwoven with the stories of the people along the way with uniforms and badges who exploit, search and destroy them. And still they arrive daily—across rivers, under barbed-wire fences and huddled in the backs of trucks—looking for a better future in a country the rest of us take for granted. The words are still written on the Statue of Liberty: “Give Me your tired, your poor.” It forgets to add “As long as they can pay.”

rreed@observer.com