Thoughts On Bad Reviews for the Movie “Crossing Over”

We watched the movie Crossing Over a couple of weeks ago at home. It’s come out fairly recently on DVD.

The acting, writing and direction seemed topnotch to my wife and me. It’s a movie similar to Crash in that there are multiple threads, with stories that sometimes wind together and, differently from Crash , sometimes not. But the theme of immigrants struggling to make it in America, often illegally or through subterfuge, gives the picture cohesion.

A Man of Heart

Harrison Ford portrays a man of heart in a difficult position as an immigration officer, often leading raids against sweatshops full of illegal aliens. Occasionally he is tempted to look the other way out of pity or compassion for the desperate seeking any chance.

Despite my wife’s misgivings about his character in real life, in this movie Ford’s acting shows a man struggling to do the right thing, and failing often enough. It’s rare to find this kind of portrayal in Hollywood movies anymore.

I think of the trailer we saw on the same DVD which marketed a World War II movie called Inglourious Basterds, starring Brad Pitt, and apparently named by someone who writes on the web. Brad Pitt strides back and forth before a group of soldiers proclaiming how they will torture and maim every German they come across to show the Nazis how it’s done. I recall something about the brave Pitt requiring each soldier to bring him 100 scalps (“and I like my scalps”). It is directed by Quentin Tarentino, that completely overrated director who thinks there is something lyrical and giggly about bloodletting and causing people agony. I find his movies agonizing.

The contrast in tone between that trailer and the rare Hollywood attempt of Crossing Over to admit the complexity of life and its pain in the character that Ford portrays could not have been more stark.

We had also watched Clint Eastwood’s Gran Turino the week before, another interesting movie about immigrants and America. It was more focussed in its story, and a little too pat in the Hollywood style, but it’s Clint refining what he’s always done, and it’s got some great moments.

Multiple Stories

Crossing Over’s multiple stories sprawl about, and come to resolution, although sometimes without Ford’s character involved at all. Maybe that’s a weakness, but it brought enjoyable variety and leavened the darkness. The theme of making it, or not, in the New World, holds the whole thing together.

I went over to Metacritic to see how the movie was reviewed. Metacritic is a compilation of reviews site. They adjust every review to a score out of a 100, and color code red, yellow and green, meaning bad, indifferent and good. The ranges of scores they choose for those colours seems to vary quite a bit by subject area. For music CDs for instance, the majority of reviews are green, with a smattering of yellows and almost no reds. DVDs though (which they rate separately from movies) are mostly red with almost as many yellows and a few greens.

But I was still surprised to find that the average review score for Crossing Over was deep in the red zone.

I try to understand this. Why did this movie, which to me might someday be considered a classic, and which moved my wife and me more than most recent movies, become so badly reviewed?

A few of the more positive reviews acknowledged Ford’s acting, and that of the other players, and the surprising turns of the stories that weave through each other. Other reviews, though, called it patronizing, heavy handed, a mess. The Wall Street Journal says, “[Director] Wayne Kramer’s interlocking saga of immigration in 21st-century America definitely crosses over, from workaday mediocrity to distinctive dreadfulness.”

Was That the Same Movie?

It’s like we didn’t see the same movie. Movie critics do suffer from the rigors of their job, seeing so many movies that unless there there is something unusually stimulating or exceptionally explicit or drastically outrageous, it can’t stand out for them. That must explain Quentin Tarentino. But still…

Admittedly there was a scene in the movie that stretched the believable.  I’m thinking of the liquor store robbery which I won’t relate so as not to spoil for someone who might yet watch it. But ultimately, even that far-fetched angle of story was redeemed by the acting and the meaning of the rest of the movie.

Perhaps the story of immigration was simply more powerful for my wife and me then for most of the reviewers. I’m an immigrant, from that far away land of Washington State, USA to northern British Columbia, Canada. More dramatically, my wife too is one, over 20 years now in Canada from Shanghai, China. Although the whole green card scenario in the States, as a symbol of acceptance and access to the American Dream, doesn’t exist in Canada, there are many restrictions and visas and difficulties for newcomers here too. The movie made itself real to us.

In the movie, at the beginning Harrison Ford’s character raids a clothing factory with his team of immigration officers with Police on the back of their jackets. They round people up, most of them illegals trying to make a buck from the owners who exploit them. A very young girl working at a sewing machine gets up quietly and in the midst of all the shouting and yelling, hides herself at the back of a closet.

A Girl’s Plea

Ford discovers her, almost by accident, and for a moment the two look into each other’s face. Not a word is said, but the girl is pleading. Ford starts to reconsider, almost despite himself, his need to take her in, but another officer comes over and so he apprehends her. She begs him to find her two small children who are being “taken care of” by a woman to whom she owes rent, but now he can’t relent. She writes their address on a piece of paper which she thrusts into Ford’s hand. He accepts, but when she is out of sight, he throws it indifferently to the floor of the factory.

This is the story that ties the beginning and the end of the movie together. Ford reconsiders the girl’s plea in the dark of the night and returns to the factory to try to find that piece of paper, which he finally does. I won’t describe all the twists and turns, but this particular thread of the movie ends tragically.

At the end, when Ford gathers himself to travel to Mexico to talk heart to heart to the girl’s parents, we see him at their door and then sitting down with them. The camera retreats slowly, slowly as he leans forward, sharing their grief, to tell them all he knows. The camera keeps going back, moving slowly away from Ford, turning an interior corner… we can hear Ford talking but we can’t see him now and the camera goes back out the front door of the small tumble-down house.

We were left with a sense of greatness.

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2 Comments on “Thoughts On Bad Reviews for the Movie “Crossing Over””

  1. bloglily Says:

    This sounds wonderful, Mike. Like you, I’m baffled by reviews sometimes. But that’s what blogs are for! Hope you’re having a terrific summer.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Lily,

    So nice to hear from you… Hope your summer is great too.

    I really must get out more (meaning over to other people’s blogs, especially yours…)

    But lazy in the summer!


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