Thursday, June 04, 2009
Cast: Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd, Cliff Curtis, Ray Liotta, Alice Eve, Summer Bishil
Director: Wayne Kramer
Runtime: 113 min.
A little Yoruban girl is held up at the immigration center for 23 months because her mother is dying of AIDS in a hospice, and her father down in Nigeria is denying paternity. We meet her early on in the film, when Immigration Defense Attorney Denise Frankel (Ms. Judd) comes to pay her a visit, and the little girl, Alike her name (pronounced alee-kay), beams a wide smile and rushes into her arms. They might be sharing only a professional relationship, but young Alike’s is too little to know much about that. She is elated, and so is Denise, whose demeanor feels picked up from the standard operating procedures by one of them social workers. The scene has had a beginning, which is supposed to be cute, and maybe even warm. No music plays in the background. Denise gifts her a coloring book, and hands her a little doll. Meanwhile, from the moment they were done with the hugging and took their respective seating positions, Alike has grown somber. Denise promises Alike a new mother who shall never leave her. Both share a glance. The scene, within a matter of moments, has grown somber too. Alike seems to be searching for something in Denise’s eyes. And, soulful music plays behind. I hate that.
I hate it when they play soulful music and hope we get on with the job of voluntarily triggering our emotions. This soulful music, its onset is supposed to act like a softener, like one of them fast vicious bouncers Dale Steyn hurls at unsuspecting batsmen. It is a manipulating device you see, one of the oldest tricks in the manual, to push us into a sentimental state of mind. The music is not the problem, but the incessant degree to which it is used certainly is. Often, it is a firm indicator about the quality of a film. Crossing Over has a few tracks of that order playing continuously in the background, as we cut from thread to thread, and it feels like somebody bludgeoning you with a hammer to bring out the tears from your eyes.
This is, dear reader, the Crash-style of filmmaking, wherein traversing between the various threads of a film is done by striking a punchline and jumping across. Mind you, the Paul Haggis film didn’t actually invent, but it might be one of the more popular titles that is unimaginative enough to merit the status of an example. What happens in such films is, individual scenes have a little life cycle going for them. They start on a note left from the previous cut, and they end on a punchline. This punchline is used by many other outlets of media too, and often for trivial ends. This punchline, in the TV soap opera world, is referred to as a cliffhanger on which an episode ends. And I believe my responsibility is to condemn this kind of filmmaking. Vehemently.
I don’t claim that a proper end to a scene is wrong. But vying to have every sequence ending on an emotionally somber tone, coupled with soulful music, and garnished with real clichéd human interaction surely is. You see, emotions in any form need to be earned by the film. There ought to be truth in his ways. There is no shorthand to it. An onset of soulful music in a way betrays the film’s inability to connect to the audience, and thus desperately seeking to push us into that state of mind. Of course, I often am generous to a film’s shortcomings of the above-mentioned nature, but not for films like Crash and Crossing Over. This here is an immoral film, which isn’t manipulative but exploitative in nature. A heavy-handed pretentious issue-based film. These are the kind of films that give liberals such a bad name. I daresay, 90% of the liberal-minded opinions you come across everyday, especially from those having something to do with art, is a whole lot of horse-dung, and their hollow and politically correct nature the reason behind the dismal and impure nature of most art.
And Crossing Over ought to be dismissed. You might have gained a general idea of its structure. As in, it is a hyperlink film with multiple story threads, and this time around all them have been put in service of the Immigration issue. There are a whole lot of them, so many some of them might slip your mind. They slip even the film’s memory, and the general strategy is to serve us some kind of muddle. There’s little nuance in the way the film moves from one arc to the other. It is just random, often round-robin, often some other rule. I couldn’t figure the logic out.
Reader, I wouldn’t want to put you through the grind of describing all the threads and what they’re concerned with, but I shall describe for you the immoral ones. Like the one involving an Immigrations Supervisory officer Cole Frankel (Mr. Liotta) and a small time actress from down under with ambitions of striking it big in la-la land. You know, like being the next Nicole Kidman, or the next Naomi Watts. Her name is Claire Shepard (Ms. Eve), and she is intended by the film to be somewhat of a blonde stunner. Claire and
Cole bump into each other, accidentally, outside of the immigrations office. As in, their cars kissing each other. Claire doesn’t have an insurance policy, and she desperately wants an extension on her visitor’s visa. The prospect of a lucrative role on a popular TV show depends on it. Cole realizes that, takes her to a café and puts forward a proposal – a green card for a cool two months in the bed with her.
Now, this kind of plot development isn’t sleazy in itself. What is rather is how the film decides to portray these moments of utter vulnerability. One might be reminded of the desperation at the heart of Requiem for a Dream, which struck just about the right note. Reader, understand, a sex scene is never sleazy, and often it is important. What is rather is how the film goes about exhibiting the female body, and to what ends. Crossing Over doesn’t have any graphic sequences, but what it has is needless exposure of Ms. Eve’s anatomy. There’s nothing in these sequences that convey an intention to understand this strange situation. I say strange, because Cole, as we learn isn’t doing it just for the physical indulgence but is actually in love with her. Mind you, Claire was ready to marry any American businessman for the citizenship, yet she takes long showers at the end of her sex-sessions. It is contemptible that the film hands her character such an utterly trivial handling, and so is another character. I might be way on the conservative front here, but the display of a nude body without enough reason earns negative marks in my book. It puts me off. Completely. And I love and admire Last Tango in Paris.
Another thread, which highlights the convenient politically correct stance. There’s young Taslima Jahangir (Summer Bishil), a high schooler, who has lived much of her life in the United States, but was born in Bangladesh. So were her parents, but not her brother and sister who were born here. Now Taslima, who walks around in a turban and visits Jihadi websites to gain greater understanding of various streams of her faith, writes a fiery essay empathizing with the 9/11 terrorists. She asks of her fellow students to consider the Jihadists as real people. Her students fire back with racial taunts. She leaves the classroom, crying. The principal sends the essay to the FBI. The FBI detains her on the grounds she is a threat to the nation, and are hell bent to deport her back to her native country. Denise Frankel pays the FBI officer a visit saying the preposterous nature of her allegations, and asks her to sympathize for such deportation shall break the family. Now here, the film colors the FBI as the evil system and liberal open minded Denise as the humanitarian. In defense of the FBI I only invoke a name – Timothy McVeigh – and all that he implies. Even Taslima is supposed to be only adhering to her right to freedom of speech, though she isn’t a citizen of the country.
The film here is resorting to judging, but without any firm credibility. Are the FBI wrong in their approach? Not even in a million years. It is the film that is wrong, completely, because it has its answers and viewpoints all ready before even the opening credits show up. The film seems to have a number of overhead shots at the beginning of many of its scenes, and it feels it is looking at its characters from up above, like God and maybe judging very much like him, conveniently handing out report cards. Or maybe, it wanted to portray L.A. as an ocean filled with the problems of these people. Either way, these shots do not have any degree of mastery to them. They just feel obligatory.
Now citing these contradictions in its plot as the film’s negatives might give an impression that it does work on a fundamental level, i.e. narrative, acting and what not. Not in the least. Some of the acting is terribly phony, especially from Ms. Judd. There’re a whole lot of the standard sore points. Dialogs are informatory in nature, whose primary purpose is to provide for backstories. Stories are terribly predictable. They feel laborious and fake too. The coincidental meetings which cause the intersection of the individual threads is, for the most part, lame. Some of the actions in the film, one of which is the ending amidst the US national anthem being played, are downright ridiculous, and cause it to score on sub-zero levels on the subtlety index. You see, this is a terrible film every which way. And its primary sin is its immoral exploitative nature. If you want proof, just have a look at how it prefers some of its threads over the other ones. Threads which promise a greater understanding of character, but are left in the cold only to be obligatorily touched and then left again.
Of course, there’s Mr. Ford, and he lends the film whatever worth there is to it. Films like Crossing Over are the true bane of cinema. We complain over Michael Bay, over Rob Cohen, over McG. They at least aren’t pretentious. I told you once that Crash shall be looked down upon. Looked at what every major critic, from Manohla Dargis to Kenneth Turan, has to say about Crossing Over and the unfavorable invoking of the Oscar winner. I tell you, these pretentious films have a terribly low shelf life.
And that soulful music trick, I shall one day carry a revolt against it.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:30 AM