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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Immigrant (2014)
The Immigrant (2014)
The Weinstein Company // R // May 16, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted May 15, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The idea of pursuing the American dream has been depicted in many different forms. Whether it's in literature, art, music, or film, they generally give a similar message. The dream appears to be just that - a dream. People from around the world can try to chase it, but it seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel that one can never seem to reach. This is most certainly an underlying theme in filmmaker James Gray's The Immigrant. He tells the story of a woman and the emotional hardships that she's forced to endure in order to achieve the American dream of freedom, opportunity, and happiness. Will she achieve it, and if so, at what cost? These are the questions that will keep audiences anticipating our lead woman's next move.

Afte reaching the streets of Manhattan, Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) is given a place to sleep and the promise of work. All of this help is given from Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), who is the man who aided her into America in the first place. He exploits her drive to get enough money to pay off the right connections to sneak her sister out of a hospital and further into the United States. Bruno utilizes his charm and wickedness in order to force her into prostitution, as she falls deeper into a trap filled with desperation and depression.

The Immigrant kicks off to a rather intense start, as Ewa tries to coach her sister into hiding her sickness, so that she can get into America. Writers James Gray and Ric Menello put both the characters and the audience through various trials as soon as the film begins. Despite Bruno's kindness, there's a constant sense of dread that leads us to believe that it's too good to be true. Once he begins to show his true colors, the audience is led to feel as trapped in this situation as Ewa. The screenplay does a good job of making us constantly feel stuck in this tragic situation. She fights in order to cling to her dignity, but that is soon lost after she's forced into prostitution. The thought of her sister being happy in America is what keeps her going, and us wanting her to succeed in somehow making enough money to make that happen. However, we never approve of the means, making some of these sequences incredibly difficult to watch. This is a display of a woman being broken down psychologically and physically, as she fights for what she sees as being the most important thing - family.

This is a feature about an incredibly cold subject, but Gray and Menello handle it in an equally harsh fashion. We're given the highlights of what's going on, but we never get the chance to truly see the dynamics within the apartment in which she resides. Bruno has an entire group of women that he has swayed into prostitution, but these relationships are hardly explored. This feels like a hugely missed opportunity, as we're simply being bashed over the head with material we've already been introduced to, rather than spending time with other elements. This is slightly relieved when Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) is introduced, as he acts as the warmth of the picture. His interactions with Ewa feel natural and authentic. This allows Ewa to show another side of herself that wouldn't have been expressed otherwise. Unfortunately, it doesn't take very long for Gray and Menello to return to bringing us more of the same material. It all starts feeling rather repetitive.

Once you reach the end of the second act, The Immigrant will either completely capture you or leave you feeling left in the middle of nowhere. It becomes a bit melodramatic, although some will be pulled through it due to the characters. However, I found the method of revealing some of the newly found revelations to be a bit over-the-top, causing it to lose a lot of its credibility. Regardless, I can confidently say that the characters themselves remain rather strong throughout the entire running time. It's a shame that they rarely connect in order to create cohesive dynamics. Most of the relationships feel staged. The only one that comes across as being real is the one between Ewa and Bruno. The majority of the story may work while you're watching it, but it doesn't having the lasting effect that a film such as this should have.

Writer/director James Gray had a brilliant cast to work with. Marion Cotillard is absolutely marvelous as Ewa Cybulska. Cotillard has such an impressive range, that she's able to keep audiences entirely engaged with almost any character. In this case, she takes a role that truly isn't explored very well, and manages to make us truly feel for her. Joaquin Phoenix is just as powerful in the role of Bruno Weiss. He captures each moment to perfection, as he manages to change our feelings for his character in the drop of a pin. He can be witty and charming one minute, and then repulsive and threatening in the next. This is yet another impressive performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Jeremy Renner might not have quite as much time on the silver screen, but he remains convincing as Orlando the Magician. Every performance in The Immigrant is outstanding, although that doesn't change the overall lack of relationship dynamics.

There's an incredibly potent and memorable film hidden here, but it rarely shows itself. The screenplay successfully encourages audiences to become invested in Ewa and her situation, although there are numerous missed opportunities here. There are so many character and plot elements that feel as if they were left on the cutting room floor. This comes across as being more like an abridged version of a wonderful motion picture. Yet, every performance is absolutely stellar. Marion Cotillard is front and center, as she dominates the screen with her brilliant portrayal as Ewa Cybulska. It's just a shame that everything else feels so disconnected. The Immigrant is intriguing, but it leaves far too many pieces out of the puzzle. Rent it.

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