John McGreevey's screenplay for Night Crossing is based on the true story of two families who escaped East Germany in an air balloon in 1979. Peter Strelzyk (John Hurt) is appalled by the oppressiveness of the Communist Party and stunned when a neighbor's son is killed trying to make it through the Wall in a vehicle. The industrious handyman wants to give his two sons a free future. He decides to make a balloon to carry them over the wall.
The film devotes an inordinate amount of attention to the details involved in creating their vehicle. Gunter Wetzel (Beau Bridges) joins in the project, but his fearful wife (Glynnis O'Conner) forces them to bow out. Peter's wife (Jane Alexander) and son (Doug McKeon) give him the support he needs to carry on. Their first attempt is unsuccessful. Aided by the Wetzels they try again only this time the authorities are watching for them.
One message of Night Crossing is that a family united in a common project can accomplish near impossible things. Delbert Mann's direction taps into the suspense of the situation but offers very little excitement. Nonetheless, in a time when people need to celebrate the preciousness of freedom, this film has its own special value.