Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) leads immigration agents into routine busts in Southern California to collect illegal aliens working in factories. He, along with his partner Hamid Baraheri (Cliff Curtis) and a host of coordinated local, state and federal units, sweep in, corral workers and start the process of deportation with brutal bureaucratic determination.
Notice I didn’t say efficiency, because this system offers little in the way of swift justice. There are plenty of ways to get caught up in the internal web, and everyone is playing an angle, looking to score a deal.
Like Aussie actress Claire Shepard (Alice Eve) who’s possibly in love with fellow illegal Gavin Kossef (Jim Sturgess), a nonreligious Jewish musician playing devout Orthodox to secure his papers. Claire is working the phony documents market when she quite literally bumps into an immigrations officer named Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta) who is falling out of love with his bleeding-heart-liberal wife Denise (Ashley Judd). Cole coaxes Claire into a sex deal where she becomes his booty call for a couple of months while he cooks up a green card for her.
Meanwhile, Denise listens to more depressing cases of families ripped apart by the system like the Jahangirs, whose young daughter Taslima (Summer Bishil) makes the mistake of expressing understanding of Islamic extremist views in her high school class, which leads to her official branding as a terrorist sympathizer and calls for her immediate removal from the country.
Unfortunately, she has two younger siblings who were born in the United States, which means one of her parents must return with her to the Middle East while the other remains here, potentially separating the family forever.
Middle Eastern story lines overtake the more traditional border crossing notions of illegal immigration, winding back to Brogan’s partner Hamid whose father is only days away from becoming a naturalized citizen. But the Baraheris still bear some heavy cultural burdens from Iran, especially as they pertain to Hamid’s younger sister Zahra (Melody Khazae), another American by birth who has fully embraced her cultural homeland for good and ill.
With so much drama and so many crossed narrative lines, the comparisons to Traffic and Crash will seem blatant and overplayed, but writer/director Wayne Kramer’s aim is more tightly focused than it might initially seem. He gives us a lush, overgrown forest, but the tallest tree in the center is Max Brogan.
Brogan comes to illustrate all sides of the debate without merely flip-flopping between positions. He stands on the front lines busting in and shaking things up, but he has a reputation for sensitivity — with a particular over-sensitivity to women — among his peers. He starts a side investigation into a missing border-crosser (Alice Braga) from Mexico with a young son stranded in the U.S. after his mother is sent back.
He serves as the conscience of the film, and Ford manages to convey each twist in the character from a naturally fluid perspective, one that understands there is no black or white in this world. As writer and director, Kramer knows this as well and he obviously goes out of his way to paint each character as a two-sided figure. Choices between the personal and greater goods arise for everyone (except for the saintly Denise who Judd plays with bland, blind liberal certitude) and in these compromised ideals the film remains a thoroughly scripted affair without much sense of real life or impact for anyone.
Except Brogan, and that is due to the sad empathy Ford brings to the character and his story line, which is the least personal of all. Brogan has no back-story or any intimate connection, yet he’s not a mere voyeur. There is wisdom and fairness in him that somehow fails to inform the other scenarios.
We embrace Ford as a heroic superman of action thanks to his past work on screen, but now he has crossed over and become a reflective Everyman. Grade: C
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