Response Journal: The Immigrant (2014)

Our melting pot is really a cauldron.

The tedious but handsome period melodrama, The Immigrant, stars Marion Cotillard as an Eastern European refugee who disembarks in New York in 1921. With her sister quarantined upon arrival, she winds up employed by a troupe of lecherous vaudevillians, namely a manipulative pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) and a smarmy magician (Jeremy Renner). Ellis Island, presented here as a foggy citadel run by venal bureaucrats, could symbolize both a national and psychological purgatory, where newcomers relinquish the past before disappearing into America’s vast melting pot. Director James Gray’s talent was always atmospherics, not substance, however, so the photography hijacks its toasty brown hues from The Godfather (not to mention the many doorframes and musty leather furniture) while deeper meaning is overlooked. As to the cast, Cotillard uses the opportunity to practice her Polish, yet her desperate visage is assuredly more communicative, expressing a tired traveler encumbered  by emotional rather than physical baggage. Renner is fine in an underwritten role and Phoenix makes a good coward and brute, even if his shortage of charisma argues for his miscasting. Admirably old-fashioned as it may be, The Immigrant is at last disappointing. Gray’s mission to de-romanticize history breaks down even before the cozy Hollywood denouement.

Cinematography by Darius Khondji.  Production Design by Happy Massee.

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