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Now or Then – Crossing Over or Traffic?

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Now: Crossing Over (2009)Then: Crash (2000)

In his new drama Crossing Over (2009), writer-director Wayne Kramer tackles the immigration issues facing America (and those who wish to become Americans), employing a cast of characters whose daily lives intersect in unlikely ways. In the hit 2000 movie Traffic , Steven Soderbergh applies a similar treatment to the international drug trade. Which of these issue-driven films is more likely to get you fired up?

The Enforcer With a Conscience
Crossing Over: Grizzled customs and immigration vet Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) spends his days busting sweatshops and tracking the illegal immigration that plagues the Mexican-American border in Southern California. A chance encounter with a desperate illegal worker forces a crisis of conscience that ends in tragedy.
Traffic: As the United States’ newly appointed American drug czar, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) plans a guns-blazing assault on the enemy in the war on narcotics, only to find his ambitions undermined by a drug-abusing daughter at home.
The Winner: Traffic. If only Ford had signed on for Traffic (as he reportedly considered when Soderbergh was shopping the movie) he would have found himself with a much meatier role on his hands.

Young Women In Peril

Crossing Over: An outspoken Muslim teenager Taslima Jahangir
(Summer Bishil) and her family land on the Homeland Security radar
after she gives an incendiary speech in class, and soon face
deportation and ruin at the hands of an over-zealous enforcement
Traffic: Privileged, straight-A student Caroline Wakefield
(Erika Christensen) escalates from recreational drug use to hardcore
heroin addiction seemingly overnight. After breaking out of treatment,
she ends up shacking up with her dealer and prostituting herself for
her next fix.
The Winner: A tie. Both parts are high on melodrama and a bit too
one-dimensional to feel like anything more than glorified plot devices.

Trapped in the Middle
Crossing Over: Brogan’s immigration-busting partner Hamid
Baraheri (Cliff Curtis) takes a hard line with the law-breakers they
both police, but finds himself torn between cultures when tensions
escalate between his traditional Iranian-American parents and his
outspoken, sexually liberated young sister.
Traffic: When hard-working police officer Javier Rodriquez
(Benicio Del Toro) is summoned to work for a high-ranking Mexican
general who’s in cahoots with a powerful drug cartel, he’s forced to
ride the dangerous line between doing his duty and succumbing to the
criminal life. In the end, he cuts a deal with the FBI that leads to
Salazar’s arrest.
The Winner: Traffic. There’s no touching
the believability and unlikely charm that Benicio Del Toro brings to
what turned out to be an Oscar-winning role.

Hollywood’s Beloved Multi-Narrative Plot Structure
Crossing Over: A gorgeous Australian ex-pat (Alice Eve) sleeps
with a sleazy immigration office (Ray Liotta) whose do-gooder defense
attorney wife (Ashley Judd) happens to have taken on the case of
Taslini and her family. And so on and so forth.
Traffic: Drug czar Robert Wakefield feels the aftershocks of
officer Rodriquez’ dealings south of the border, and a third plot line
links a wealthy San Diego father to the same pesky Mexican drug cartel
that had been causing trouble all along.
The Winner: Traffic.
By a mile: The various stories in Soderbergh’s movie are all compelling
in their own rights, and the connections between them feel natural and
unforced. Kramer should have used it as a primer. Alas.

The Verdict
Crossing Over: It has its moments, but the overall impression is that of a slapdash rip-off of Crash — a movie that hardly needed to be revisited.
Traffic: Thought-provoking, well-acted, and packed with style, the film is a win for all involved.
The Winner: Traffic. It still feels fresh (and dishearteningly of the moment) after all these years.

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