Movie Mom

A well-intentioned but ham-handed exploration of U.S. immigration policies, this movie’s message is undermined by its cardboard characters and clunky script. Like “Babel” and “Crash” it is a multi-story exploration of one theme, but it is formulaic and uninvolving.

It starts off badly as one character says to Max Brogan, the immigration cop played by Harrison Ford, “must you always be the humanitarian?” And just in case we don’t get it immediately that the immigration defense lawyer played by Ashley Judd is close to sainthood when she is introduced on screen hugging a little African girl and worrying that if she is not placed soon she will lose her native language, Judd wears a necklace with a charm in the shape of Africa to make it clear where her loyalties are.

The movie unspools as though it had been laid out on a grid. On one side, we have the worthy immigrants who want to stay in the United States. On the other we have the evil or unfeeling bureaucrats who want to send them home. Brogan’s partner is a naturalized citizen from Iran (New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis, in one of the film’s best performances) whose father is about to become the last member of the family to be naturalized. The two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (with huge ICE letters on their jackets) conduct raids on sweatshops to round up illegal immigrants. But the soft-hearted “humanitarian” Brogan cannot help getting involved. When one beautiful young woman pleads with him to make sure her son is all right, he literally cannot sleep until he tracks down the boy and delivers him to his grandparents in Tijuana.

The movie’s points are hit with a sledgehammer and the dialogue is almost as overweighted. Each character is a symbol with only one presenting characteristic. Slimy: predatory judge who insists on sexual favors in exchange for a green card. Misguided: Korean kid about to be naturalized who thinks that he has to be in a gang to get along in America. Even more tragically misguided: long, awkward conversations and confrontations in impossible circumstances, like a murder accusation in the middle of a naturalization ceremony. This is a serious and often tragic issue but the sincerity of the film’s good intentions cannot make it successful as a movie or as advocacy.

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