The Immigrant Reviews
Good Film! James Gray's latest tale of melancholic woe and spirits in emotional turmoil takes us back to when America was the land of opportunity for the tired, poor, huddled masses. The director's fifth feature is once again centered in New York, where past entries like "Little Odessa" and "Two Lovers" took place, but "The Immigrant" takes us back ninety years, putting a classical spin on his typical tale. "The Immigrant" may rest mostly on its trinity of actors' shoulders, but it is a rich experience thanks to Gray's operatic direction, which feels like an homage to the days of both Chaplin and Coppola. I do find it to be an almost incomplete film, as I feel its ending felt more like a respite than a true completion. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I feel Gray could do so much more in this era, and tell more of this woman's story. But as it stands, I find "The Immigrant" to be a fine film with a great deal to say, and it acts as a beautiful showcase for Cotillard.
1921. In search of a new start and the American dream, Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda sail to New York from their native Poland. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda is ill, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, she quickly falls prey to Bruno, a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. And then one day, Ewa encounters Bruno's cousin, the debonair magician Orlando. He sweeps Ewa off her feet and quickly becomes her only chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself.
"The Immigrant" is a highly evocative movie of a specific time and place...and that's pretty much it. Well, except for Jeremy Renner who brightens the proceedings whenever he puts in an appearance. Otherwise, they are pretty dark, centering on the subject of sexual slavery which is still sadly a relevant topic today. Except the story which is little more than a contrived house of cards insists on being a melodrama instead, one with a hoary love triangle attached. The only person who could make such a mess work would be Lars von Trier and then only through sheer ballsiness.
Films about turn-of-the-century immigration resonate deeply with me. As a grandchild of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic , I can't help but reflect on how tough it must have been to adapt to a country claiming it wanted "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" but more often than not didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat. I suppose that's why films like THE GODFATHER II and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA affected me so profoundly.
Into this mix comes James Gray's stunningly beautiful yet overly melodramatic and too contained THE IMMIGRANT, starring a very impressive Oscar honor roll with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. The story follows Ewa Cybulski, a Polish immigrant arriving at Ellis Island in 1921 with her sister Magda looking for a better life. In the customs line, Magda is left behind, suspected of carrying tuberculosis, leaving Ewa on her own, penniless in this brave new world. Due to reportedly "loose morals" on the journey to New York, Ewa is relegated to the deportation line. Cotillard is incapable of a false moment. This magnificent actor has the most expressive eyes and pulls off a flawless Polish accent to rival Meryl Streep's in SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Cotillard looks exactly like a screen siren from the silent era. She immediately draws you into Ewa's plight.
Overhearing her pleas with the authorities is Bruno Weiss (Phoenix), who scouts Ellis Island for "talent" for his burlesque show, a front for a prostitution ring he runs. He takes Ewa back to his boarding house and lures her into his world. She meets Emil (Renner), a magician, and a fairly standard love triangle ensues. Although the early scenes had an epic grandeur - I'm a sucker for people disembarking ships, standing in long lines, and early 1920's NY street scenes - things get smaller and smaller in scope, concentrating instead on the three main characters talking in little rooms. Despite Darius Khondji's gorgeous cinematography, reminiscent of the beautiful, desaturated work he did in EVITA, and despite the perfectly calibrated performances, the movie seemed to lose its flair. When you're dealing with grand operatic emotions (Phoenix really pulls out all the stops here) you want sweeping imagery to go along with it. If only the characters had gone outside more! I suppose there were budgetary constraints, and don't get me wrong, this movie works for the most part, but a little movie about love just isn't as interesting as one about the struggles of adapting to a new country.
Gray seems to want a movie-movie here. His prior films have similar qualities, with TWO LOVERS in particular feeling like an update of MARTY with its piercing blue collar aesthetic. I applaud that he wants to elevate drama and give us an old-fashioned weepie, and the final shot is a stunning, subtle image that brings home everything Ewa has been pursuing. I rooted for these characters and enjoyed following them around. Renner is truly compiling a fantastic resume, different every time he takes on a role, and here he is dynamic and sympathetic. It's a small, quiet tragedy, hopelessly grim and well-intentioned. I just wanted a much bigger canvas for our tired, poor, huddled masses.
The story takes us in year 1921, when a Catholic Polish woman Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) arrive at Ellis Island, New York City as immigrants. Looking for a better life after escaping their ravaged home in post-Great War Poland did not start well. Magda is quarantined because of her lung disease, and Ewa , who was raped on the ship, is almost deported! A stranger named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) notices her and her fluency in English and bribes an officer to let her go. Bruno takes Ewa to his house, but soon Ewa discovers that she has to make money to get Magda out...Bruno lets her dance at the Bandits' Roost theatre but that is not enough. She becomes a prostitute for her boss Bruno who starts getting romantically interested in her as well...
According to the director James Gray, the movie is "80% based on the recollections from my grandparents, who came to the United States in 1923", and he described it as "my most personal and autobiographical film to date", but he was also inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera Il Trittico. It is a significant work of art which sometimes carries a heavy burden but lacks momentum which drags the events even slower. Performances were outstanding and probably the strongest part of the cinematic experience! Worth watching!
As a period drama, The Immigrant accomplishes strong world-building. The scenery is impressive, the mood feels right, and the characters that inhabit the scene blend in to the times. We see the self-righteous, hypocritical morality of the times, as well as the harsh realities many immigrants face. Yet the film never fully explores this. Instead, it focuses on the dynamic between Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), and specifically on Ewa's self-hatred. This is never quite as compelling as the film thinks it is, seeming to meander too much on the helplessness of Ewa, and giving us a character in Bruno that is interesting, yet frustratingly inaccessible in his motives. The performances are certainly strong, yet the film would seemingly be better served by expanding its vision to the wider realities of the immigrants.
To achieve its dramatic notes, the film employs a great deal of melodrama, especially towards the end. My problem was that it didn't always feel organic to the story and felt sloppily executed in the final act. Still, the film has great merit in presenting a story with undertones of forgiveness, and a unique look at a very real part of our history. I only wish more focus was on this, with the film's biggest fault being a somewhat thin narrative.
The film kind of reminded me of movies like Moulin Rouge, The Illusionist, and Unfaithful just to name a few. I am surprised that the studio released the film now during the Summer rather than wait till Fall for Oscar consideration. The film deals with how women, especially immigrant women were treated during those times. There is a theme of forgiveness and redemption in the film. The only negative was the pacing, however, cause the performances were really good, and it was well shot, I didn't mind the slow pacing of scenes here.
Marion Cotillard is very good here. She gives an Oscar worthy performance. Joaquin Phoenix is also good in a complex role here. This is his 4th time working with Gray. Here Phoenix plays someone who mistreats and disrespects Marion and the other women that work for him, yet at the same time, you feel sympathy towards him. Jeremy Renner is also good. The film has the romantic love triangle. I was kind of surprised at the outcome of the confrontation between Phoenix and Renner towards the end of the film. Renner's character is the only male that treats Marion's character with respect, yet he has flaws too.
I definitely recommend this film, especially for the cinematography and the performances of Marion, Joaquin, and Jeremy.
This film seems to follow a somewhat more old-fashioned formula as an extensive, if not expansive character study that I personally find richer than the more contemporaneous structuring of dramas of this type, and is certainly refreshing in the context of contemporary dramatic storytelling, but, in general, is still trope-heavy, doing little to freshen up the formula, by its own right, during all of its dragging. I don't know if material this layered can be explored all that tightly in only two hours, yet the final product still has enough time left over to dedicate to meanderings, or at least material which feels meandering when backed by James Gray's trademark dry storytelling, which is much more engagingly realized than I feared, but sometimes too dry for the sake of entertainment value. The film stands to be tighter, and yet, more often than it is fatty around the edges, it is too tight for its own good, providing only so many necessary slow spells, and fleshing out only so much material in order to establish a sense of dynamicity to plotting's progression, leaving storytelling to wander from segment to segment, until focus falls into unevenness, if not lapses altogether. Perhaps what most wears down the grip of this still consistently compelling affair is a sense of aimlessness, which leaves momentum to slowly, but surely deplete, when it should be gradually reinforced throughout the course of this conceptually powerful narrative. The film offers a lot of potential for impact, and it seems like Gray is a little too aware of this, because although Gray's direction is much more often than not genuine and effective in molding an engrossing and intimate drama, there are moments in which he seems to try too hard with all of the heavy happenings and what have you, and they are ultimately recurrent enough to exacerbate a sense of repetition which wears down momentum. I'm a little weird, in that I'm all about these kind of drama which have the guts to get harsh and realist in their frequently challenging the dramatic filmmakers and performers, in addition to the viewers, but there's something a little manipulative to all of the borderline pessimism of this harrowing tale, and that sort of holds the meat back from breaking through a sense of formula and aimlessness as truly enthralling. The film falls short of its true potential, and yet, it is still compelling through and through, with conviction and power, all well-polished by high artistic value.
This drama explores grand material on a rather intimate level, therefore Peter Zumba is not able to play much with the scale of his art direction, but he still nails what he is given to do, - whether it be selling the distinct look of early 1920s New York, or selling the particular world of our leads - so much so that the art direction captivates in its distinctiveness, and augments the flare of Darius Khondji's cinematography, which is, plain and simple, amazing. An early artistic endeavor for 2014, this film may very well set the bar for visual style for this year, for Khondji's prominent golden hue and dreamy lighting is consistently breathtaking in its gorgeously reflecting the grit and beauty which help in defining this drama of considerable aesthetic value, and considerable potential. I don't know if this subject matter is particularly new, and its near-aimless interpretation further dilutes the potential of this drama, but as an unflinching study on a woman who escapes a life of horror only to find herself trapped by figures of questionable trustworthiness who promise a better life for her and her loved ones, this film is rich with piercing dramatic value and provocative thematic weight, done both justice and injustice by an overambitious interpretation. Ric Menello's and James Gray's script doesn't have the freshness or tightness to flesh out the full depth of this drama, but it does have the inspiration to draw deeply layered and unpredictable characters, as well as biting dramatic set pieces for Gray to bring to life as a director who still doesn't have a great grip on pacing, but is as consistent as he's ever been in combining haunting style with subtle intensity in order to resonate time and again, with tension and heart. With that said, Gray's efforts are not consistent enough to absorb the full scale of this conceptually dynamic drama, and yet, he never falls short on compelling, something I was expecting him to do at times, despite a cast that most fulfills expectations. Sure, a lot of performances are rather underwritten, but just about everyone delivers on, if not transcends what he or she is asked to do, with Jeremy Renner proving to be rich with charisma, while Joaquin Phoenix steals the show in the supporting cast with a portrayal of a brutally misguided, yet ultimately loving and fearing caretaker that takes a while to really picks up, but is utterly penetrating when it does really kick in, challenging the highlights in a leading performance by the lovely Marion Cotillard that are, in fact, more recurring, because where Cotillard could have found herself held back by conforming to the limited written range to her central Ewa Cybulska role, her deeply emotional portrayal of a woman racked with pain and, eventually, guilt carries nuance which defines Cybulska as a woman of enough strength to persevere, no matter how much the harsh realities of a free world oppress her. From the style to the acting, there are certain aspects that are just plain marvelous throughout the film, it's just a shame that the highlights in storytelling aren't consistent enough to secure the final product as outstanding, even though inspiration is never so empty that the final product fails to reward.
In conclusion, there's something formulaic and aimless to this unevenly structured drama, whose ambitious bloating also leads to dramatic monotony that wears the final product short of what it could have been, but there is nonetheless enough quality to the art direction, exuberance to the art direction, highlights to well-characterized writing and thoughtful direction, and weight to the acting in a cast from which the stellar Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard to secure James Gray's "The Immigrant" as a consistently and sometimes powerful portrait on oppression in a place of salvation.
3/5 - Good
The film's lead trio (Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner) all deliver world-class performances that are subdued and nuanced, acting off of each other with bold naturalism and skill.
This is a movie that is less about the immigration experience and more about the struggles of an immigrant. As a dramatization of the immigrant experience in the '20s and '30s it certainly succeeds, but where it shines is its attention to individuality in the midst of the free-for-all. It's all about individual struggles, and how those struggles translate in their daily lives, from being manipulated by natives to the sheer paranoia of the unknown. This is a film that is very much making a statement about our present predicament with immigration reform. It reminds us that people aren't statistics, they're people, and that they all have a long story that we couldn't ever possibly understand.
Overall, this is breathtaking visual experience and a headstrong fable about life in the modern world. Well done, Gary Gray. This is a true masterpiece.
In 1921 two Polish sisters arrive on Ellis Island only to be split. A rumor has circulated that one sister partook in sexual activities on the boat while the other has become sick with tuberculosis. One sister is sent to the hospital and the other is sent to a line to possibly be deported back to Poland. The girl is "saved" by a man who takes pity on her. She quickly discovers she has not been saved when she discovers she has been taken to a brothel of sorts and may be required to partake in sexual activities for money.
"You don't like money?"
"I like money. I just don't like you."
James Gray, director of We Own the Night, Two Lovers, The Yards, Little Odessa, and the upcoming The Lost City of Z, delivers The Immigrant. The storyline for this picture is very entertaining and well done. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and how it unfolds. The acting is also very good and better than you may anticipate. The cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotilland, and Jicky Schnee.
"I am learning the power of forgiveness."
I just came across this picture while scrolling through Joaquin Phoenix films on Netflix and decided to add it to my queue. I had not heard much about this, but I can tell you this is well done and I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I strongly recommend seeing this underrated film.
"If you could lick my heart you'd taste nothing but poison."