‘The Immigrant’: an intimate tale of survival in ’20s New York
A 3.5-star movie review of “The Immigrant,” a metaphor-rich story of passage and survival starring Marion Cotillard as a new arrival from Poland who falls prey to a small-time impresario and pimp, played by Joaquin Phoenix.
The Associated Press
‘The Immigrant,’ with Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, Angela Sarafyan. Directed by James Gray, from a screenplay by Gray and Ric Menello. 117 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language. Several theaters.
Floating in past a misty Statue of Liberty, James Gray’s “The Immigrant” somberly gathers its majesty as a metaphor-rich story of passage and survival. It’s an old tale told with rare precision, channeling grand themes into an intimate melodrama.
Ellis Island, a portal of hope and new beginning for films from Elia Kazan’s “America, America” to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather, Part II,” is here a more complicated rebirth.
In 1921, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) arrives from Poland with her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan). A cough gets Magda quarantined and immigration officials are set to turn away Ewa. But there preying on such lost, pretty women is Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), who, with a bribe and a handshake, pulls her out of the line and brings her to his Lower East Side apartment.
He’s overly courteous in a false, snake-oil salesman way. She’s terrified and wary. Bruno, a small-time impresario and pimp, welcomes her into his harem of women.
Cotillard’s Ewa is horrified by the situation she finds herself trapped in, but she’s also resolute to claw her way in New York and to raise money to get her sister out of the hospital.
As despicable as Bruno is, he develops a love for Ewa and a contradictory urge to protect her. He rages with jealousy when his cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner), a magician Ewa first sees perform at Ellis Island, pursues her.
Surely, a handsome illusionist rhapsodizing about the American Dream — as Emil does in his act — is not the most subtle critique. If Emil embodies all the lies of America, Bruno is its ugly truths: capitalistic and shameless.
For Phoenix, always unpredictable, volatile and raw, it’s perhaps his finest performance — one of sweeping contradictions, roiling turmoil and, as if the cherry on top, a late touch of Brando.