The Immigrant

James Gray's beautiful and mesmerizing film The Immigrant features two Oscar-caliber performances in a powerful story of one Eastern European woman's struggles after coming to America. Marion Cotillard is Ewa a Polish nurse and seamstress who arrives at Ellis Island with her sister Magda but through the connivance of a charming stranger, a superlative Joaquin Phoenix, she is quickly separated from her sister and swept up in the man's world of speakeasies and brothels. Both actors, personal favorites of mine, deliver stellar performance in roles that are not showy but brimming with intelligence and control. An early scene in which Phoenix's Bruno upbraids Ewa for resisting his advances is so wonderfully written (Gray and Ric Menello) and acted that it resonates throughout the film. In three or four minutes we understand Bruno's perfidy and Ewa's entrapment. It's frightening and heartbreaking and splendid. The film is shot mostly in sepia and muted grays, which makes Ewa's donning of the harlot's crimson lipstick all the more stunning and tragic. Gray, who has worked with Phoenix on a number of other films (The Yards, We Own the Night), has crafted an important tale of the desperation and hope that drive many to our shores or across our borders. Cotillard's Ewa is an emblem. She accepts what she must do to finally obtain American freedom that she and her sister traveled so far for. As she tells her aunt in one of the film's most riveting scenes, she has done sinful things but she had to survive. And in that realization and acceptance is the film's message. Some of the wretched refuse yearning to be free did -- and do -- unspeakable things to get here and stay here. The cast also includes Jeremy Renner as Bruno's cousin, Orlando the magician, who falls for Ewa which sets him on collision course with his cousin. Highly recommended.


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