From the trailer, The Immigrant, simply clicked in my mind. My own grandparents had long ago arrived at Ellis Island, as did Ewa and Magda, but likely earlier. The music of the trailer had a hypnotic beat or syncopation to it that would be the tambourine, and it was almost ethereal hearing it again and again . And I knew, just from the trailer, that I would not miss seeing this film.
The story was clearly foretold in the trailer, so I knew what was coming. But now, having seen the film, I feel the trailer now seems much grander than the film I watched.
Essentially, this film is a three character piece, with assorted immigration officials, bar patrons, men who wanted to purchase Ewa’s ‘time’, cops, and Ewa’s fellow girls at the bar/theater/pleasure house where she worked.
Ewa is played by Marion Cotillard, and she is mesmerizing despite the fact that script pushes her into a corner labeled ‘victim’ and doesn’t let her stray very far from it.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the sleazy entrepreneur/impresario who simply ‘arranged’ Ewa’s difficulties.
Jeremy Renner plays the white knight magician who is on hand to save Ewa from the fate that awaits her.
The film seems that it would be filled with emotional scenes that would fire one’s imagination, trigger thoughts of your own families beginnings in the New World, and we’d be swept along on the tides of a good story about arriving on America’s golden shores and land of opportunity.
In truth the film was flat. Desperately flat and uninspiring. Maybe it had to do with the dull palette that Director James Gray (We Own the Night, Two Lovers) and his cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en, Midnight in Paris) used. It seemed as if the whole film was designed to give the impression that we should notice and care about the chiaroscuro tones of the images.
Or maybe it was the fact the almost all of the film was shot in the Kaufman Astoria Studio, in Long Island City, in Queens. Then again, it was a rather bleak story, so maybe this was a wiser choice than a full-blown, blazing in color kind of film. But that is what I call the tone of the visuals. Even if it suited the script, it didn’t deliver much in the way of visual pleasures for we ticket buyers.
Joaquin Phoenix, was suitably cast as the darkest of the three leads. But he seemed as if he had turned down his combustion to a slow simmer. For a guy that was a conniving, manipulative, and I’m thinking of a word that begins with an ‘S’ and ends with a ‘G’ and isn’t scalawag, he was inexplicably low-key, far too genteel (even it if was a pose), and not nearly rough and tumble enough to use a knife.
The third lead, Jeremy Renner, seemed woefully miscast to me. With his slicked down hair, a thin mustache, and almost criminally lacking in any kind of charisma, Renner’s Orlando brought very little to the proceedings, including the fact that he wasn’t really up to the task of hero.
Besides that, his character was so paper-thin. Just as we could obviously see the wires in his levitation magic trick, it was just as clear that Orlando had no depth which was so unlike Joaquin’s Bruno Weiss, who we learned was Jewish, and once upon a time was a victim himself. I mean he even said something like, Even I was once desperate….
But Bruno is a man at war with himself. He wants to be loved and seen as a man who comes to the aide and helps, as a man who gives of himself and asks so little in return. Which is patently untrue. He’s grasping, needy, selfish, and really black-hearted. Only we don’t get this from the actor – we get it in the script. As in we hear it because it is said, rather than we see and feel it.
As I said above. Cotillard is mesmerizing. Let me add luminous as well. But as scripted the role offers her no moments of happiness. Renner’s Orlando tells her, It does not matter what you do, you have a right to be happy, Ewa. But happy she isn’t, and she’s not even given a single moment to smile out of joy. You know, like a walk in the park, or a shopping excursion, or even just a meal in a nice restaurant.
The film is quite chaste with regards to sex as it is all implied, like in what we don’t see as a scene fades to black. There are no jokes, and no passion. Bruno isn’t especially blunt except when he warns Orlando off. Orlando conjures no inspiring thoughts despite that he tries, and Cotillard’s Ewa does what she does because she has to, she has to save her sister, and she can do so, only because she is so strong of faith.
I’ll rate the film at three-point zero out of five, and call it disappointing.
There are some brief moments that are memorable, but more are forgettable.
One other thing that bothered me – the film is supposedly set in 1921, in the aftermath of WWI. Yet we see in the art work, and the one image of the lower East Side Street, and in a poster, a complete Empire State Building, which was not finished until 1931.