Whenever the topic of greatest working actress pops up Meryl Streep so often finds her name at the top of the list. I do belief Streep can be really good, but I believe a strong case could be made for Marion Cotillard. She is a sensational actress who has proven herself with every role she has tackled. She does it again in James Gray’s new film “The Immigrant”. This period drama was a very personal project for Gray. In an interview with Variety he said “It’s 80% based on the recollections from my grandparents, who came to the United States in 1923.” We see this personal connection running throughout the entire film.
The story starts in 1921 as Ewa (Cotillard) arrives at Ellis Island with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan). The two have left their home country of Poland, which has been ravaged by World War I, in hopes of starting new lives. But during the processing, Magda is quarantined for a suspected lung disease and Ewa is set to be deported due to some questionable immorality that took place on the boat to America. But she catches the eye of a man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) who uses his money and influence with a particular guard to free Ewa and save her from deportation.
With no place to go, Ewa accepts Bruno’s offer to work for him in hopes that she can earn enough money to get her sister the medical care she needs. The problem is Bruno runs a ‘gentleman’s show’ and the women he employs are prostitutes. Bruno is charming and persuasive but he also exploits Ewa’s desperation. Ewa is torn between the moral consequences of her actions and her desire to help her sister. Things are complicated even more as Bruno develops an infatuation with her which brings with it jealousy, rage, and even violence.
The movie centers itself on its characters and the different plights of each. Ewa’s circumstances are obviously difficult and the dream of a new life seems practically unattainable. Bruno is often a despicable and detestable man, but at times we see glimpses of compassion. The reasons behind his occasional generosity is a puzzle. Is it due to a genuine love he has for Ewa or is it in the interest of making money? Jeremy Renner plays a struggling magician named Orlando. He is a cousin to Bruno but the two haven’t been close in years. He too is drawn to Ewa and he looks to be a more gentle and loving alternative. But even he shows glimpses of instability making us question who he really is inside.
These characters are magnetic of themselves but they are even richer due to the brilliant cast. Phoenix is always good and while this role doesn’t ask him to dive as deep into the character as some of his previous work, he still has moments where he just takes over a scene. Renner is also very good and he often offers some needed changes in tone which he has no problem handling. But the true standout is Marion Cotillard who once again completely immerses herself in a role. Watching her dissect her character and give her such strong emotional form is akin to watching a fine artist. It’s heavy material and Cotillard expresses it with an emotional precision that we rarely see. She also has a classic-styled radiance that fits this type of movie well and translates beautifully with the camera. Cotillard is brilliant and this is my favorite performance of the year so far.
James Gray’s story is engaging and heartbreaking. His characters are interesting and compelling. But there is also a perfectly realized 1920s New York City that plays a major role in the film. Gray’s vision combined with Darius Khondji’s cinematography creates shades of the city which sometimes look bustling and vibrant but often times looks cold, harsh, and unwelcoming. It’s a portrait that walks hand-in-hand with the characters and their situations.
There are a few things in “The Immigrant” that could be picked apart and a case could be made that it has a few lulls. But for me the selling point here are these characters who I happened to latch onto instantly. It’s also a period film featuring a master class in acting by Marion Cotillard who I believe is one of our finest. She absolutely owns the screen and she leaves nothing behind. That alone makes “The Immigrant” worth seeing.
Wow great review Keith! Unfortunatley for me I will only watch it after the DVD release since in my country the distribution was limited. So far you left my expectations really high! Congrats for your review again and best wishes!
Thanks so much for reading and I really appreciate the kind words. This is a really good film. Hopefully you’ll get to see it soon. Please come back and tell me what you think.
Hey Keith! This has been on my Netflix Instant queue for a while now and we almost saw it this weekend but we came home from dinner too late. I can’t wait to see this and I agree Marion is a great actress. I really like Joaquin too, another main draw to the film. Seems that he’s sort of James Gray favorites, he’s in a lot of his films!
Soooo good Ruth. I’ve heard some say its a bit slow but I was so engaged with these characters. And Cotillard is just amazing. I’ve been crazy about her for a while and she once again delivers. Anxious to hear your thoughts on it.
With all of his movies, Gray shows us that he loves his actors and what it is that they can do with his material. Here is no different, except that the performances are some of the best I’ve seen this year so far. Good review Keith.
I soooo agree with you. Gray seems to appreciate great actors. He really lets them work and it pays off big time in this film.
Great review, Keith, and I can’t wait to watch this. Your review confirms what I’ve heard from others that it’s awesome. Cotillard is a divine actress–what a presence. With Phoenix in the cast, how could it be bad?
Thanks so much Cindy. Cotillard is a favorite of mine and performances like this solidly it. This is really worth your time. I hope you love it as much as I do.
I bet I will, for we seem to have similar tastes. 🙂
I’m so disappointed in myself for leaving this one until it was too late. I had plans to check it out last week but it had already been replaced with Le Chef. Le sigh. . .
Great review though man, this sounds exactly (or at least, very close to) what my own impressions would be, given how much I think of Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner. Cotillard really is a gem, isn’t she?
She’s fabulous. I love how she tackles tough and demanding roles. And amazingly she always nails them. She’s a rare gem and I always love seeing her name attached to a production.
I’m really excited to see this and your review has only made that desire stronger! Also you are completely right about Cotillard! She is one of, if not my favourite actress working today and I think that she is absoloutley brilliant!
I feel the same way about her. She never gives a bad performance and her roles are seldom easy yet she always amazes. She does again in this film!
I’ll be reviewing this later today (hopefully), but I agree with you nearly 100%! Great review.
Thanks a lot. It really is a good film, isn’t it? For me it’s all about the characters. I latched on to them with ease and was thoroughly interested in their stories. And when you have such strong performances, well that makes things even better.
Awesome review. I love this kind of historical epic. Hope it releases here soon.
I think you would really appreciate this one then. It’s very good and the performances are so strong.
Nice review. Saw this last week and while I enjoyed The Immigrant, I felt kind of disappointed by it. I thought both Phoenix and Renner were excellent and actually overshadowed Cotillard, but certain sections of the film felt pretty lagging.
I can see what you’re saying but I didn’t take away that. I think her role is such a central component of the film. It’s the centerpiece. I really liked both Phoenix and Renner here. It’s definitely supporting work but I thought they serviced her story very well.
I completely agree. Just wrote a review for The Immigrant on my blog, I was stunned by the film and thought it was excellent. Marion Cotillard is one of the greatest working actresses today, I’ve loved her ever since I first saw her in La Vie En Rose!
Yes!!! I feel the same way about Cotillard. She is a phenomenal actress who always impresses. I’ve never seen her give a bad performance.
Thanks so much for taking time to comment.
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Cotillard’s entire performance is one that is both masterful and magical.
Amen to that. Was one of my favorite performances of last year and it’s a shame that she was basically overlooked by all of the awards.