Tuesday, May 27, 2014

[Review] The Immigrant

Ellis Island, 1921. A hopeful Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister are denied entry into America. Ewa faces deportation, while her sister is taken into quarantine due to tuberculosis. But then, a savvy "travel agent" played by Joaquin Phoenix, approaches Ewa and pulls some strings to get her into the US. He's deceptively nice, and this is exactly why Ewa goes to sleep with a knife tucked under her pillow. Bruno (Phoenix) ends up selling her into prostitution. A magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner) enters the picture with aspirations to run away with Ewa, and the story becomes a bizarre push-and-pull love triangle as Ewa does her best to take matters into her own hands.

The film looks great, reveling in the period detail and old-timey hues similar to the flashbacks in The Godfather II. Cotillard is outstanding as always. Her appearance and expressions are often reminiscent of silent film stars of the 1920's, but the script holds her back. Phoenix is unhinged, but way less convincing than, say, what he demonstrated in The Master. He seems to be confused about who his character actually is. Renner works as a foil, but he's just kind of there.

It's a dour premise that could project some powerful material, but it falls so flat. The story doesn't journey too far down any of the potential avenues, and the one-note tone and stagnant pacing makes it feel like it's barely creeping past a standstill. The melodrama is constant, both situational and musically, but instead of injecting emotion, it seems to drown all of it out.

Maybe the film's setbacks and pacing reflect the difficulty of the immigrant experience, and it does faintly delve into the harsh dilemmas and troubling compromises in the face of mistrust and desperation. It also has an excellent final shot. But with a top-notch cast like this--cinematically, The Immigrant should be more than just there.


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