If “The Great Gatsby” portrayed the glamorous and stylish version of the 1920s, then James Gray’s “The Immigrant” has done the exact opposite. This film stars Marion Cotillard, best known from movies like “Midnight in Paris” and “Inception,” as a Polish immigrant whose sister comes down with a bad case of tuberculosis and is taken away into Ellis Island’s hospital. Down on her luck, and with a reputation from the ship after being accused of possessing “low morals,” Cotillard’s character Ewa is swept away by Bruno Weiss, a charming yet sadistic man who takes the idea of Ewa’s low morals and makes use of it by forcing her to become a prostitute in order to snag some quick cash. When Bruno’s magician cousin Orlando comes into town, however, things become a little complicated between the three.
The best thing to come out of this film, by far, is the acting. Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of a desperate immigrant trying to get her sister into America is an effective performance. A lot of what she does in the movie is quiet and subtle, however when the emotional sequences occur, particularly ones at the beginning and the end of the film, she gives off her deep side and is able to pull out a deep performance overall. Seeing her in smaller roles in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception” make me forget how fantastic she is as an actress, and this movie luckily reminded me exactly WHY I enjoyed her work. As great as Cotillard was, though, I felt that the best performances of the film belonged to her co-stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.
Phoenix’s performance as Ewa’s “savior” Bruno was captivating and powerful. At first, you really like this guy and find him strangely charming. Then Ewa does something about 15 minutes into the film that really sets him off and shows off his true colors. Having not seen a lot of Phoenix performances, I gotta say that this might be his best one thus far. He gives it all he’s got and shows how talented of an actor he really is. Jeremy Renner was also really good as Bruno’s suave magician cousin Orlando. There’s something about Renner that just sucks you in as a viewer and just totally be enveloped in his charisma. As much as I love him in stuff like “The Avengers” and “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” this is the type of film I’d like to see him be in more. There aren’t any bad performances in the film overall, and the three leads just kill it as a whole.
Personally, I loved the sets and costume designs of this movie. Every shot of New York circa 1920s makes you believe that you have traveled back to the time of cheap prostitution and poor immigrants who lose their families at customs. Even more gorgeous is the film’s cinematography. Darius Khondji, whose previous work includes “Midnight in Paris” and “Se7en,” delivers fantastic work and makes this grim and dirty world look surprisingly beautiful and haunting at times. It’s not as memorable or fantastic as maybe “War Horse’s” cinematography, but it is well up there, as it is quite fantastic.
While the acting, directing, and the design/cinematography of the film are great, the one thing that sets this film back is the running time. Honestly, the film feels a bit long at times and seems to drag or have one too many scenes in it. If this had been cut down by maybe 10 minutes, then I wouldn’t have had any gripes with the movie at all. Unfortunately, there are certain scenes in the movie that really weren’t needed and didn’t add anything significant to the story whatsoever. Other than that, there really aren’t any other flaws present whatsoever.
Director/writer James Gray effectively captures the bitterness of New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1920s without getting too grim or being overly sexualized. The film is dark, as well as a sad one for the most part. However thanks to the superb acting, the beautiful sets, and an overall great story, “The Immigrant” is a film that is definitely worth seeking out when The Weinstein Company decides to release it. Apparently this film has been transferred to Weinstein’s Video-On-Demand label Radius because of the mixed reactions at Cannes. Personally, I think this is a shame, because Weinstein I think could have made this an awards contender had they stuck to their initial gut feeling. Alas, though, the film will be available for all to see, and it will get a very limited theater run. Hopefully word of mouth spreads and Weinstein reconsiders their decision. Overall, “The Immigrant” is a powerful and compelling drama that is most definitely worth your time when it does get released here in the States.