"Don't give up the faith, don't give up the hope. The American dream is waiting for you."
The Immigrant is Joaquin Phoenix's fourth collaboration with James Gray in the director's chair, although this time the lead role went to the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard who gives a subtle melodramatic performance without going over the top. She always delivers great work and watching her alongside Joaquin Phoenix was near perfection. The major problem I had with this film was that the story really didn't engage me despite the potential it had. The Immigrant takes the American dream premise and turns it upside down by focusing on characters who were much less fortunate during that time. Despite the great performances I never warmed up to the characters and found the melodrama a bit tedious. I'm on the minority when I say this because critics have fallen in love with Gray's work, whose fan base has been growing over the years. I still prefer his earlier film, We Own the Night, but this is the film he will probably be remembered for from now on. It was a bit disappointing for me, although I did enjoy a couple of scenes (especially Phoenix's revelation near the end) and the talented actors who were cast in this film. The 20's atmosphere created by Gray didn't really impress me either, but there is enough here to give it a mild recommendation.
The screenplay co-written by Gray and Ric Menello (who also collaborated with Gray in Two Lovers) begins by introducing us to two polish sisters, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Magda (Angela Sarafyan), who have just arrived at Ellis Island from Poland. Their dreams of a better life are shattered when the officials take Magda away because they discover she has tuberculosis. Ewa isn't allowed entrance either because the officials claim that the address where they were supposed to stay (their aunt and uncle's home) doesn't exist and that no one from their family is here to account for her. A man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) happens to be there at the right time and offers her an opportunity to stay with him. Having no other option she accepts. Bruno takes advantage of the situation and tricks the innocent Ewa into working for him as a prostitute. Wanting to save her sister, she will do what it takes but Bruno is a deceiving man who has fallen for her. When Bruno's charming and charismatic cousin, Orlando (Jeremy Renner), arrives he teaches her not to lose hope and have faith that she will be able to meet her sister again. But Bruno isn't too happy with Orlando's arrival and sees him as a potential threat so a jealous rivalry ensues and so the plot thickens.
Jeremy Renner was perhaps my favorite character in this film and I enjoyed his performance. Perhaps it helped that he had a likable character and was the less restrained of the actors, but I thought he was the highlight of this film. I really enjoyed Phoenix and Cotillard, but Renner was the one that helped me get engaged with the story. The scene near the end is perhaps my favorite moment and by far Phoenix's best performance in the film. Phoenix is such a talented actor and he has made a lot of great films so this performance might be forgotten over time, but Cotillard does shine in her first English language lead performance. The scene where she is confessing her sins to a priest is the one that audiences will remember her for. It would have been very tempting and easy for her to be more melodramatic in a harsh film like this, but she gives a restrained performance that allowed the story to feel more real and believable. I still think she is better in the roles she gets in foreign films, but this was a great opportunity for her. The Immigrant has a pretty straightforward narrative with melodramatic moments that would have failed tremendously if it wasn't for the cast who managed to pull off believable performances.