Director: James Gray
Writer: James Gray and Ric Menello
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner
1920’s New York has been portrayed countless times in cinema, from the original King Kong in 1933 to Vito Corleone’s arrival as a young boy in The Godfather: Part 2 to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby last year. The Immigrant follows the trend of those films of depicting both the bleak and glitzy side of the Big Apple in the roaring twenties.
The Immigrant follows the journey and descent of Polish immigrant, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) who comes to New York with her sister to escape the harshness of Europe and achieve the American Dream. But when the pair reach Ellis Island (the immigration centre of New York at the time) her sister is deemed too ill to journey onto the mainland and the pair are separated. She is “rescued” by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming but wicked businessman who takes her in as a seamstress in his burlesque show.
Soon the desperate Ewa discovers that Bruno’s business is more sinister than she first imagined and she is trapped into the prostitution. She is forced to continuely demean herself so that she is able to get enough money to bring her sister to the mainland. It’s only when Bruno’s estranged magician cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner) comes into the picture that there seems to be some light in Ewa’s dreary and tragic life.
Melodramatic elements are at an all time high in The Immigrant, which ultimately takes a toll on the film’s overall success. Although it has three big name stars doing their best to make this into something of a believable or enjoyable film, it constantly falls flat and all too often feels more like a midday movie than a masterpiece. Phoenix has never overacted so much in his life and Cotillard (usually constantly good) is doe-eyed and uninspired as the miserable Ewa. The only actor who comes out of this film unscathed is Jeremy Renner, who is incredibly likable and sympathetic as the struggling Orlando the Magician.
However the film is beautifully shot and the set pieces are true and accurate of their time; New York has never looked so bleak and unappealing. But pretty pictures can’t make up for the film’s lack of character or plot development. We are forced to endure Ewa’s mistakes over and over again as she constantly goes around in circles trying to make a change in her life. Maybe some may find this a realistic portrayal of a woman in her situation, but for me it was utterly tedious.
The Immigrant ultimately attempts to become something it’s not. With all the elements of a would-be masterpiece (all-star cast, beautiful cinematography, interesting plot), it is let down by Gray’s over-dramatised direction, its atrocious script and exaggerating leads.
This piece was written for and published on SYN’s features blog