Friday, December 26, 2014

The Immigrant review

We all came here on boats, whether they be real or metaphorical. All of us, at one time or another, have known desperation. Defeat. Hunger. Pain. They are universal human emotions everyone can relate to on some level. Some have just experienced them on higher levels. We have all had family members leave us, but how many of us were there as they were taken, violently, away? James Gray's newest film, The Immigrant, understands hopeless desperation like few other motion pictures. It tells the story of Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cottilard), an poor woman from Poland who immigrates to America with her sister. Upon arrival, Ewa's sister is stripped away from her for tuberculosis treatment. A shadowy manipulative man named Bruno picks Ewa out from the crowd. He promises help for her and her sister. The spider has caught the fly. He is a pimp, and Ewa is his next prospect. Thus begins the epic dirge that is The Immigrant. A melancholy meditation on the American dream and everything that comes with it. Gray has learned from the great filmmakers of his past. Hints of early Coppola and Elia Kazan, even Scorsese are visible here. It is easy to tell how committed he is to make a solemn and sobering film that one of the names mentioned would have made in their prime. It seems like he is trying to make The Great American Film. Something to be looked back upon in wonder. It's his stoic commitment to that that is his downfall. The film sometimes comes across as stuffy and dreadfully solemn. Luckily, it recovers quickly. There are enough moments of gorgeous imagery and terrific performances to get past the shakier parts. But when it all works, it really works. Gray uses close-ups the way David Lean used wide landscape shots of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia. Cotillard's face fills the screen and her utter weariness becomes more than apparent. Things that some less talented filmmakers would have communicated in lengthy monologues or numerous and complicated scenes Gray instead communicates in a single shot of a character's face. Joaquin Phoenix's character is possibly the most complex in the entire film ranging from wicked to remorseful and even pitiful. All of this is made known in a few simple close-ups. This all made possible by the massively talented actors working in the film. Gray loves the foggy wide shots of Ellis Island, but where he really flourishes are in the smaller and more emotional scenes. The always great Jeremy Renner gives a wonderfully understated performance and adds multitudes to these scenes. The Immigrant is a film of bold and sobering ideas. Showing the painful trek someone goes through to find a better life. Prostitution and lies are simply a price to pay for freedom. Freedom, barely visible through insomnia-puffed eyes, that seems so close yet remains always out of reach. That fiery knot in the pit of the stomach that urges to push onward. It does not always pay off. The boats sometimes have holes. Behind the facade, lies the true meaning of the American Dream. It is not pretty. America is truly a place of opportunity. The ways in which we achieve that opportunity may not be as simple and easy as one would initially think. The Immigrant, like The Godfather Part II and many of its predecessors, understands this, for better or for worse. Not it is only up to us to understand it. The flag is in tatters yet, it still rises. It still rises. 

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