The Crossing

the crossing

Once upon a time, the cable network A&E represented quality arts and entertainment television and, along with PBS, was a friendly presence in civics and history classrooms across America. Then classics like Dog the Bounty Hunter and Duck Dynasty started sprouting into the lineup. The Crossing comes from the bygone era, and while mostly lackluster, it nevertheless manages to fill an American Revolution period film deficit. The action centers around one particular episode of the war – George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River and the subsequent Battle of Trenton. For non-Americans who are unfamiliar with the history, and for Americans who didn’t pay attention in history, this was a risky decision by the general to march his ragtag group of renegade colonists from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, quite the slog apparently. Morale was low following a string of defeats and soldiers of the Continental Army were ill equipped for the midnight romp on Christmas Day.

At the helm is Jeff Daniels, who has the daunting task of portraying America’s dear leader. He gave one of my all-time favorite performances as Colonel Joshua Chamberlain in another American war television film, Gettysburg. In that Civil War epic, he resurrected the Union officer’s status as American (well, Northern) hero with his quiet, steady, and forceful portrayal. Daniels does much the same in “The Crossing,” evincing a firm and unfaltering general. His Washington is not so much the stoic depicted in familiar paintings but someone who managed an impossible assault by sheer determination and against all advice and reason. It’s low-key hagiography and misses the reality of his exhaustion and desperation.

The film manages to avoid the rousing patriotic fervor that might accompany it; there is less talk about the ideals of the Continental Army and more about sheer tactics. First, the officers must decide whether and how to ford the quickly freezing Delaware. Washington, along with his reliable friend General Hugh Mercer (Roger Rees) and proud defender of the hoi polloi Colonel John Glover (Sebastian Roche) debate not in fevered pitches but with measured urgency. With most attention given to the commanders, little is paid to the sad state of the soldiers, scarcely clad in their summer rags and subsisting on meager rations. The film fails to capture their miserable condition, which was partly what made their crossing so incredible. When the troops finally make it to Trenton, the film moves swiftly from one ambush and attack to another. The plucky Army has caught the Hessians, hired and well trained German mercenaries, unaware.

And just as neatly, the battle concludes, but not with lingering and uplifting strains of Americana. Instead, “The Crossing” ends with a sober conversation between Generals Washington and Nathanael Greene (David Ferry) that dampens the mythology of America’s founding. Greene, rebuffing his superior’s pride, says, “In the end, we all kill for profit.” Meanwhile, Washington, informed that his troops have suffered negligible casualties, wonders, “Out of some miracle or the graciousness of God or the idiocy of war, we have survived.” True words, Mr. Washington, true words.

The Continental Army prepares to take on the Hessians.

Released: 2000
Prod: David Coatsworth
Dir: Robert Harmon
Writer: Howard Fast
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Roger Rees, Sebastian Roche, David Ferry
Time: 89 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: A&E
Reviewed: 2014

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