Just recently, Marion Cotillard won the NYFCC (New York Film Critics Circle) award for Best Actress. She won the award for not only her performance in Two Days, One Night, but also for this film. The film also won for Best Cinematography, so I knew that I must check out this film as quickly as I could. Having seen Two Days, One Night already, I knew that she had to be pretty great in this film. I wasn’t wrong about that, but the film does leave much to be desired and ultimately ends up not accomplishing much.
The year is 1921 and many people from all over the world are seeking a new life in America. Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), are escaping from Poland and are planning to meet up with their Aunt & Uncle in New York. Upon landing in New York, health inspections keep Magda from the group after she’s diagnosed with tuberculosis. Ewa is going to be deported due to rumors that she slept around on the ship to survive and her only hope lies with a man named Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix).
It’s clear to Ewa that Weiss is a man with power and money, so she does whatever it takes to work for him and make enough money to support her sister. Bruno runs a “women of the world” show for paying male customers and Ewa is sent right in to work with them. Her uncomfortable demeanor makes her standout and her objection to the work infuriates Bruno. When all hope seemed lost, Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) comes to work at the same place as Ewa and the two find an immediate connection. However, this connection comes at the cost of Bruno being upset.
The Immigrant is a moderately affecting period piece with a very strong performance and a few other fairly good ones. The film looks better than it actually is and by the end of the two hours, you don’t take much away. Personally, there wasn’t much intrigue that this film provided and it was a struggle to retain interest in this two-hour film, which ultimately felt much longer than that. The basic story is interesting, but the plot development needed some serious improvement.
Marion Cotillard, as per the usual, delivers a fine performance here that will move you in all sorts of ways. She’s down-on-her-luck, but determined to make things well for herself and for her sister. She has extremely strong morals, but must compromise in order to make some money. Watching her struggle with her decisions and with the men controlling her life is awful and Cotillard does a beautiful job when it comes to letting her true feelings be felt. She’s extremely emotive and it’s easy to understand her characters motivations. It’s not her best work, but it’s certainly one of her better performances.
Joaquin Phoenix continues his string of weird performances with a corrupted man who’s leading an interesting life. Phoenix’s fascination with Cotillard is quite creepy and the lengths he goes to get her what she wants is frightening. He’s a sad, pitiful man and Phoenix does an excellent job conveying that. Jeremy Renner, although only around for a short time, provides a counterbalance to Phoenix’s obsessed creep and presents a sweet, genuine man who’s just trying to see that Cotillard is happy. Renner and Phoenix clash often and their back-and-forths are really enjoyable to watch.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji adds the last bit of life into this film with his gorgeous imagery. Every single shot is dripping with beauty and he effortlessly adapts to any scenario within the film. Costume Designer Patricia Norris and Art Director Pete Zumba bring vibrancy and beautiful images to life with their work, only enhancing Khonji’s cinematography. Everything in this film looks top-notch and the combination of beautiful imagery and great performances is the glue which holds this film together.
Director James Gray co-wrote this film with Ric Menello and their final product is somewhat of a letdown. They focus their attention on Cotillard, but we still need to know more about her. The same goes with every other character in the film. We only get what’s on the surface and it’s frustrating because there’s a fine story to be told here. Their dialogue is mediocre and the film’s pacing is absolutely dreadful. The two-hour runtime feels like an eternity and for what we get in the end, it’s perplexing as to how they didn’t know that it wouldn’t fully pay off. There’s a lot of work required to fix how this film flows.
The Immigrant is a very well-made film about adapting to a new lifestyle when you’re coming from a different culture, but the film’s tendency to meander and stray from the character’s goals stretches its runtime and provides an average ending. Marion Cotillard gives us one of the best female performances of the year, while Phoenix and Renner always seem uncomfortable with their characters. This drama gets drags on for far too long and not enough happens to make this film anymore interesting than it started out as. I do wish that I had liked this film better, but it’s slow pacing and mash-up of unfitting characters and a basic story kept it from being something that’s easily recommendable.
The Immigrant Trailer