Thursday, May 29, 2014


James Gray’s THE IMMIGRANT is very much saturated in film lore. It is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, where melodramatic acting and grand settings were the centerpiece of the storytelling. Gray literally takes us back in time to tell his story about an immigrant in the early 1920’s by employing these old methods. That is the grand presentation of THE IMMIGRANT, but there is more to storytelling than that.
Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) emigrate from their native Poland to New York in search of a new life. When Magda is quarantined at Ellis Island for medical reasons, Ewa is left with nowhere to go and is taken in by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who turns her to a life of prostitution before she falls for a small-time magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner).

THE IMMIGRANT paints a very dismal picture for immigrants who came to America in the early 1920’s. This was an age where people arrived on a boat with all that they owned in one small bag, and were then easily confused, tricked, herded like cattle and made to bunk-up in deplorable conditions. Director James Gray goes through great lengths to push this point, and Ewa is always right in the middle of it. As bad as the immigration process is for Ewa, things get worse for her as she gets tricked into a life of prostitution by Bruno. Her situation is hopeless, with each glimmer of light she finds quickly extinguished. As if her story isn’t sad enough, things get tricky when she falls for Orlando and she finds herself in the middle of a tough choice; run away with Orlando to a life of prosperity or work for Bruno in an effort to one day be reunited with her sister. THE IMMIGRANT ultimately is all about family and the great lengths a person would go through to keep it together.
Director James Gray and famed cinematographer Darius Khondji have crafted a magnificent looking film. The movie looks like an old yellowed photograph, and it makes for an immersive look which instantly transports the viewer back to 1920. The setpieces are magnificent to look at; in particular the old Ellis Island halls and rooms and New York City before the coming of the skyscrapers. For as great as the film looks and embraces the older style of filmmaking, Gray doesn’t seem to put any sort of personal touch on THE IMMIGRANT; Gray is very much a cover-band here…not incredibly original but worth every cent.

Acting is very good across the board. Joaquin Phoenix is painted as the villain but ultimately is realized as not so much an evil man, but a lost soul who can’t quite make things work right. He goes from a friendly face to a hot-tempered bad guy in the blink of an eye, and Phoenix nails it perfectly. Jeremy Renner is the perfect Yin to Phoenix’s Yang as the white knight of the film looking to whisk Ewa away from all of the misery; he faces off against Phoenix’s powerful acting and matches his every stride, and as a stage-performer in the story has to pull off some impressive physical work as well. The star of the film is obviously Marion Cotillard and she shoulders the burden impressively. Her character is on an emotional cliffhanger throughout the film, and there is never a second that goes by where she doesn’t make us care for her.
The finale gives us a fair amount of emotional payoff and wraps things up nice and tight. It is only then that we realize that THE IMMIGRANT doesn’t really have a whole lot of plot to it, and is very much focused on the Journey over the Destination. But by staying heavy on character and grand in its presentation, THE IMMIGRANT is still a worthwhile voyage.


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