By Joseph Walter
And who could forget the stellar Schoolhouse Rock showstopper, "The Shot Heard Round the World?" It was the start of the Revolution!
Regardless of what started my affinity towards that particular time period, I remember being fascinated by commercials for The Crossing back in 1999, but feared that I wouldn't be allowed to watch it.
Lucky for me, my 4th grade teacher had taped it and we watched it as a class just a few days after its premiere... and it was kind of a surreal experience, considering how brutally and explicitly violent it was.
Also, I'll never forget the look on my teacher's face (or how she threw her arms up in the air) after George Washington made a rude comment about Henry Knox making the boat sink by swinging his fat balls around.
So, what is The Crossing and how does it count as a Christmas Special? Read on!
Synopsis & Review:
What's immediately apparent, aside from the late 90s opening title cheese, is how distinct the tone and atmosphere of the film is. With impressive (and award-winning) cinematography and perfectly chosen color palette, you find yourself sucked directly into the 1700s, and are hit with an almost tangible sensation of the wintery chill that the Continental Army is grappling with.
Speaking of the army, they're in a desperate situation: loss after loss, retreat after retreat, their once-great army has been reduced from 20,000 to about 2000, with almost all of their guns and supplies being exhausted or unusable. To make matters worse, their enlistment papers will soon expire, and it doesn't seem that Congress is interested in paying for them to be renewed.
Thus, George Washington finds himself with almost the entire weight of the Revolution on his shoulders, and his alone, and the pressure is killing him.
Jeff Daniels takes on the role of the general (yes, the Dumb and Dumber Jeff Daniels) and his performance is unique. Instead of playing Washington like the idealized, larger-than-life immortal god that he is often revered as, Daniel's gives us a reserved and quite man who silently suffers under the tremendous tasks thrust upon him. For some, he may seem to understated, but the subtle humanity that's injected into the role spoke volumes to me.
He's also bolstered by a stellar cast of actors who bring life to multiple historical figures, all of whom are excellent foils to the stoic and controlled Washington.
The production itself is humble, yet it somehow manages to create an atmosphere of authenticity that few other historically-set shows and films are able to capture. As I mentioned before, it genuinely feels like you're in the 1700s during this fateful period of the Revolutionary War.
The restricted budget, coupled with a superb production staff, made the most of what they were given and crafted an impressive and authentic, unpretentious world, and it's by far the film's most distinct and endearing element.
That's not to say that the storytelling itself is poor, though.
Despite knowing the story and how it will play out, the writing and performances are convincingly executed to the point where the situation seems so dire that you're no longer sure if Washington and his exhausted soldiers will be able to find success in their truly bold mission... and what a mission it is!
The pacing throughout the film is extremely well-done, that by the time the actual crossing occurs, you'll be on the edge of your seat.
Washington bets everything on this desperate maneuver, and you truly feel the anxiety and elation of it being carried out.
When the troops march to Trenton (in unintended day light, no less!), the look of subdued shock on their faces speaks volumes; they can't believe they made it as far as they did without being detected. And yet here they are, in Trenton, without a single Hessian prepped-and-ready to fight them off.
The final battle sequence is one that needs to be seen to be believed, as the film's best elements are elevated and come together in a powerful climax.
The imagery of Washington and his associates coming over the hill at Trenton on horseback, only to be dwarfed immediately by the thunderous marching of their army right behind them is chill-inducing, as is the look of surprise, awe, praise, relief, elation and even disbelief as Washington and co. give the order for their men to charge, totally bewildered that no one stands in their way and their gambit has paid off in spades.
This moment, among many others, is given an even greater sense of emotion thanks to composer Gary Chang's beautiful and reserved score, which creates a perfect mirror into the spirit of each moment.
All in all, The Crossing is a fantastic historical picture, and it's happy to suck you into another time and place for its 90 minute runtime while delivering a powerful-yet-understated emotional experience.
Traditionally speaking, not much... other than the fact that it takes place around Christmas, with the climax transpiring directly on the holiday. Also, George Washington is quick to wish his men a "Merry Christmas" before the legendary boat journey.
Also, what's more Christmas-y than sneaking across a river and murdering your still-drunk enemies on Christmas Day?
Not a damn thing.