Crash meets Babel in this multi-strand Los Angeles immigration drama. The film is well-made and benefits from a very strong cast, but it's both overly worthy and rather pushy about its perspective.
Immigration cop Max (Ford) clearly has compassion for the illegals he rounds up with partner Hamid (Curtis), a naturalised citizen from Iran. But visa official Cole (Liotta) is exploiting the desperation of a wannabe Aussie actress (Eve), while her British friend (Sturgess) finds a loophole in the law. Meanwhile, Cole's wife (Judd) is an immigration lawyer trying to help a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl (Bishil) picked up by the FBI on suspicion of terrorism due to a school project. And Yong (Chon) is a Korean teen caught up with an Asian gang.
There are several other storylines, and each touches on a specific aspect of immigration, with a range of ethnicities, visa situations and personal issues, all of which come up against the rigid rule of law. Even harsher are FBI tactics that throw out rights such as privacy, free speech and the presumption of innocence, not to mention simple human decency. But then, their paranoia is echoed by people on the streets and in the classrooms.
In other words, the film is packed with thought-provoking material; it's vitally important simply because filmmaker Kramer is airing such complex issues. The Bangladeshi family is the most involving story, with a lovely, understated performance by Bishil as a girl whose whole life comes undone because she dares to think deeply. This story could have supported the whole film, and sometimes sits at odds with Sturgess' more comical tale, Eve and Liotta's sordid encounters, or Curtis' increasingly disturbing journey.
The entire cast gives offhanded, natural performances that hold our interest.
Ford is good as the everyman, brushing against the various plots. Despite the insipid Mark Isham score, there are some seriously powerful emotional scenes along the way, although a couple of strands get lost in the shuffle, disappearing for long stretches and only coming back to fit into the final tidy mosaic. Ultimately, Kramer strains to make it gel together, but we still hear his cry for understanding and compassion in a world filled with bigotry and ignorance.