The Immigrant (The Weinstein Company)
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language.
Starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Yelena Solovey, Dagmara Dominczyk, Maja Wampuszyc, Angela Sarafyan, Ilia Volok, Antoni Corone, Dylan Hartigan, DeeDee Luxe, Gabriel Rush, Kevin Cannon.
Written by James Gray and Ric Menello.
Directed by James Gray.
The ‘American Dream’ may not be what it used to be. That may or may not be a bad thing. Nearly a century ago, immigrants came from around the world looking for a better life in the United States. There are plenty of examples of those who succeeded and failed, and The Immigrant is one of those (fictional) stories, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Marion Cotillard stars as Eva, who arrives at Ellis Island in 1921 with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) to escape the aftermath of Word War I Poland. Upon arrival, health officials discover Magda is sick, and the sisters are separated. Eva is accused of behaving badly during the boat ride, and scheduled for deportation back to Poland. A devious man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) spots Eva in a line of immigrant rejects and arranges to sponsor her, which allows her to enter the country. Eva soon discovers that Bruno is kind of a pimp and manipulator; a man who keeps a stable of women who put on nudie shows and solicit sex. Destitute and unable to connect with her aunt in Brooklyn, the prudish Eva eventually turns to prostitution in order to survive and earn enough money to free Magda from the Ellis Island infirmary.
Eva eventually meets Bruno’s cousin Emil, a magician with a drinking problem. Emil and Eva are attracted to each other, which angers Bruno, who believes he is also falling for her. When Bruno and Emil confront each other, it puts Eva at greater risk – and less likely to reunite with her sister when she is accused of a murder she did not commit. Eventually, Eva must turn to Bruno for help.
The Immigrant has a few things going for it, including very authentic-looking 1920s scenery, costumes and art direction. There was a little metaphoric imagery as well, including the film’s opening scene with the Statue of Liberty – with her back to the camera as the immigrants arrive at Ellis Island.
That said, I was more than a little disappointed in Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner, who turn in some of the most soulless performances of their great careers. It isn’t entirely their fault, either. James Gray and Ric Menello’ story seems like it was taken directly from one of those old silent film melodramas, complete with dastardly villains who sneer under capes to prey upon innocent dames.
The worst part of the story comes at the end, when the tedious tale of Eva’s plight is tied up in a reversal of character from Bruno, and we’re all supposed to feel sympathy for him. I like a good tale of redemption, but The Immigrant gives no believable motivation for Bruno’s remorse. The movie also fails to offer any relevant commentary about contemporary immigration issues, when it seems there was plenty of opportunity to do so.
The Immigrant is far beneath the talents of its fine cast, and – dare I say – it’s an American nightmare that ought to be deported.