Review: The Immigrant
To call this film beautiful would be the most accurate description, but beauty in this case is only skin deep. The Immigrant is an aesthetically pleasing film, and that is the best thing that it has going for it, however, the story itself feels bland, tired, and simply unnecessary. Director James Grey has very eloquently put together this period piece that follows Ewa (Marion Cotillard), a woman traveling from Poland to America with her sister Magda during the war. This journey is difficult for Ewa and Magda for multiple reasons, and Ewa is left desperate and alone in New York as everyone she meets only uses her for her beauty.
The cinematography, score, costumes, and set pieces are all stunning. As well, the performances from Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner are memorable and compelling. All three characters in this film are flawed, untrustworthy, and complex. It is because of the strong performances that this film truly has some incredible moments. Sadly, these individual parts do not come together to make a whole film that leaves any sort of emotional impact. As compelling as these characters can be, their self-serving ways make them hard to sympathize with, and therefore hard to really care about. We never really get to know Ewa, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), or Emil (Jeremy Renner) outside of their basic desire to get what they want, and what they do in order to get it.
The nature of beauty seems to be a theme in the film that exists both in its technicalities and as a plot device. Marion Cotillard is a stunning actress, but it is her physical beauty that gives her character the power that she has over the two men who are in love with her. There is not much more to Ewa than her pretty face, her means to survive and her will to save her sister. The way in which the film unfolds feels very traditional and unoriginal. There is nothing new about The Immigrant, and although it may be paying tribute to a kind of film that doesn’t really exist anymore, it does this without trying anything different. The story is something that has been done multiple times, and without any sort of peak or suspense, The Immigrant just feels uneventful. The film does have a couple of moments, one scene that stands out in memory, and some beautiful shots and framing from a technical standpoint. However that is not enough to deliver any reason to care about the people in this film or the ordeals that they go through.
The Immigrant is the surface of a much better film that is somewhere inside there if the story had more meat to it. It had the potential to be an extremely compelling and moving melodrama, but instead it is just a melodrama; nothing that we haven’t seen before. With lesser actors, the film would not have much going for it at all. Although technically it is gorgeous, and this is its best aspect, the aesthetic quality of the film does not make up for the lack of grittiness and catharsis that the film could have reached. Watching the film, you feel like you should care about what is going on for these characters, but something prevents that; and it is because the film does not delve as deeply into its themes and feels a little bit like a PG version of what it attempts to do. The story of a woman forced into prostitution and her struggles in coming to America could have made for a much more interesting story, but the director’s choices in keeping the film very clean and simple made it lack the power that it needed to move its audience. While the film isn’t completely boring, it’s not as interesting as its premise hints at, and therefore maintains a shallow quality of the film that could have been. It gets by on its beauty, just as Ewa does, and unfortunately that is not enough to ever truly get to know The Immigrant.