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Wick's Review

Created Jul 31, 2014 11:04PM PST • Edited Aug 06, 2014 04:25PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner form a tortured romantic triangle at the heart of The Immigrant, a touching period drama. Cotillard, the immigrant of the title, enters America with her sister through Ellis Island. Traumatized back in Poland, she gets beset with new problems in a New York minute.

    This gives writer-director James Gray a platform to explore the seamy side of Jazz Age New York City, including burlesque, prostitution and corruption. Early on it seems as if his display of burlesque boobies will amount to nothing more than a garden variety burlesque of America, but then the story deepens, respecting its fallen characters and by extension the America in which they live.

    Indeed, most everyone is sympathetic in The Immigrant, if seriously fallen. This starts with the reluctantly beautiful immigrant, whose attractiveness is a double-edged sword. It brings unwanted attention from men, but affords her the ability to survive and save her seriously ill sister.

    The movie’s sympathies also extend to the nice guy pimp played by Phoenix, who is a user but not an abuser of women. Given the mean streets of 1921 New York, he’s presented as being damn near a prince.

    Gray’s movie ultimately earns its stripes by taking religion and the promise of America seriously. As to the former, we see how Mass and confession are meaningful to a downtrodden young woman, a refreshing dose of post-post-modernism. As to the latter, the immigrant says her goal is “To be happy”, the pursuit of happiness being an essential American freedom.

    But she’s not happy. Why so sad? She has her reasons. Yet the movie has an improbably happy ending, or at least a very satisfactory one. Together with a terrific set of stars and a fascinating lens into Ellis Island and Roaring Twenties’ New York, that makes The Immigrant a welcome newcomer to these shores.

  3. Great 4.0

    Marion Cotillard has reached a station where her every role is must-see. Her enormous eyes are not only beautiful, but unusually expressive, here taking in a strange new world. We can see why men would fall in love with her and how she manages to stay true to herself. In short, she is a Screen Queen of the first order.

    Joaquin Phoenix essays his trademark diffidence as a kindhearted pimp, and a Jewish one at that. His character brings to mind the title of a book about Jewish mobsters: They Were Good to Their Mothers. His mother isn’t in the story, but his prostitutes and many others think him a good man, even if he knows how far he’s fallen. Phoenix is ideal for a role like this: semi-articulate and repressed emotionally.

    Jeremy Renner livens up The Immigrant as an illusionist who is the black sheep of a shady family. Renner is most effective when he plays upbeat roles, as here. Perhaps because his natural demeanor is low key.

    Elena Solovey jumps off screen as Phoenix’s partner/boss at the burlesque theater they run.

    Finally, how about tenor Joseph Calleja’s cameo as Enrico Caruso? The guy can sing.

  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Good 3.0
  7. Male Costars Very Good 3.5
  8. Great 4.0

    The Immigrant is a terrific film, full of evocative period touches, simple yet brilliant staging and penetrating human insight. Bravo to writer-director James Gray and fellow writer Ric Menello.

    For instance, an early dream scene experienced by the Immigrant is simple yet brilliant, while a late scene of a boat sailing away out the window while a man walks down a hall to doom is simply brilliant framing.

    In terms of human insight, it shows how criminality is a slippery slope that the pimp inevitably slides down. And yet a woman he has wronged tells him “You are not nothing.” Indeed.

  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Very Good 3.5

    James Gray & Ric Menello structure their story classically, with a triangle forming and then explosively breaking apart. The well-earned first kiss comes 87 minutes in.

  11. Music Very Good 3.5
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5

    Terrific period piece of Ellis Island and New York, circa 1921

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.0

    Don’t get too excited. Some bare boobs and tawdry settings, coupled with some understated violence, barely reach R-rated territory.

  15. Sex Titillating 1.7
  16. Violence Fierce 2.0
  17. Rudeness Salty 2.4
  18. Glib 1.2

    Did the great Caruso really perform at Ellis Island?

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.5
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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