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DVD Review – The Immigrant

3 min read

It’s not a particularly original story, but it is still a relevant one that is presented in The Immigrant, directed by James Gray and starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.

The-Immigrant-InsertThe story opens with immigrants Ewa Cybulski (Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) waiting in line on Ellis Island to be processed. They have just sailed to New York from their native Poland in an effort to escape the war and build a new life together. But doctors immediately discover that Magda is ill, claiming she has lung disease and the two women are separated. Magda is sent to quarantine and Ewa is soon rejected by authorities and sent to the exclusion line.

Enter the charming but untrustworthy Bruno (Phoenix), who offers to help her. Alone and desperate, she allows him to take her to his house, feed her, give her a place to sleep and reluctantly agrees when he offers to get her a job as a seamstress at the local theatre he works at. But things soon begin to spiral downward for Ewa when Bruno forces her to become an exotic dancer at the theatre and she catches the eye of a wealthy aristocrat.

The film is bleak and often cold with predictable plot points, and things just go from bad to worse for Ewa. However, strong performances from the cast, in particular, Cotillard, make it a very watchable film.

Renner is absolutely delightful here as Orlando, a dashing, young magician who also happens to be Bruno’s cousin and long-time rival. Following a chance meeting and beguiled by Ewa’s beauty, Orlando is determined to save Ewa from her predicament and separate her from Bruno. Next to Cotillard, Renner might very well be the best thing about this film. What at first seems a flight of fancy for Orlando soon turns into a genuine concern for Ewa’s welfare and it seems that he is the only character who sees Ewa as more than an object.

Phoenix is a Gray favourite and plays his role as the deceitful, dark and half-mad with love Bruno very well, only slipping into caricature here and there. His volatility however adds another edge of tension to a film that is already quite tense.

This is familiar territory for Gray who has explored the world of immigrants arriving and surviving in New York before (LITTLE ODESSA, THE YARDS). The Immigrant presents its audience with a range of ethical dilemmas, not all of which are resolved or new but which are still important to be discussed.

We don’t see a great deal of character development in this film, it’s more that the characters are revealed and exposed throughout the film as Gray strips them down to raw meat and bone.

But this is a different perspective on the consequences of war. Ewa flees a war zone in her own country only to run into another one in New York. It is not a physical war that she finds herself in but the consequences for Ewa are still dire and the trials she faces are still relevant today.