'The Immigrant' (2013) Movie Review - Cannes Film Festival

The Immigrant movie review - Cannes Film Festival
Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant
Photo: The Weinstein Co.

There's a moment about an hour into James Gray's The Immigrant where it can decide to do something different or once again repeat the same scenario it has already beaten into our head time and again. In that moment, Marion Cotillard playing Ewa (pronounced Eva), a Polish immigrant in 1921 who's been prostituting herself to raise money to get her sick sister out of the immigration infirmary, responds to the opportunity to travel to California and make some money, "I can't, I have to stay for my sister." I could have thrown something at the screen I was so infuriated. From that moment on the film was, more or less, dead to me.

The Immigrant
Grade: D-

The Immigrant"The Immigrant" is a The Weinstein Co. release, directed by James Gray. This film has not yet been rated by the MPAA. The running time is .

The cast includes Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Dagmara Dominczyk, Angela Sarafyan and Sofia Black-D'Elia.

Why such an aggressive response? A couple reasons. First, Cotillard's performance is overly robotic and I felt nothing for her character. Every sentence seems to take eons to come out of her mouth and, as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with the fact English is her character's second language. I'm not sure there is a single thing she says that doesn't have at least one pause mid-sentence and if she isn't pausing for "dramatic effect" between one period to the next capital I guess it doesn't mean she's acting. Additionally, her character is so redundant, whiny and meek I can only tolerate so much boo-hoo-hooing from someone who willingly puts themselves in harm's way.

It didn't have to be this way. Shortly before the scene I describe above Ewa says, "I am not nothing" as she sits among fellow immigrants who are likely to be deported. It's a moment where you believe her character may have some measure of strength and not merely play the victim for the film's entirety. No such luck.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Ewa is immediately separated from her sister, ignored by her uncle and placed into a holding pattern where she will likely be deported back to Poland. Of course, all of this is part of a plot narrated by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a vulturous pimp who runs a small-time theatre show in town where he entertains an audience and whores out his "doves". Bruno seizes on Ewa, taking her into his fold, promising to help her reunite with her sister, gives her lodging, a job, etc.

In some ways Bruno's intentions are honest and he clearly has a "thing" for Ewa, but that doesn't stop him from treating her like a prostitute. Ewa also isn't oblivious to the fact Bruno is using her and while she shows moments of strength and courage, she continually falls back into Bruno's troupe and accepts the fact she will have to prostitute herself all while playing the "woe is me" card. "I need to help my sister," "I have to go to church," blah, blah, blah. None of it feels real as much as it feels made-up, despite impressive production design, costuming and the warm amber hues of Darius Khondji's lighting.

Things aim to improve upon the arrival of Jeremy Renner's magician character Orlando, cousin to Bruno and obvious object of jealousy. Orlando is caught by Ewa's beauty during a Port Authority show where Ewa is, once again, being held and will likely be deported before Bruno, once again, intervenes.

Orlando finds his way to Bruno's theatre show where he performed at one time and has been hired on again despite Bruno's protests. Things escalate, there's an argument, people chase one another, Bruno and his "doves" are sent packing and onward we go.

The second half of the film only proves worse than the first. Dialogue is so obvious it hurts, "Hey Ewa... Would you like to go West with me? You could be my assistant." All said without an ounce of inflection or feeling, not that Gray's script is necessarily giving them Shakespeare to recite. I never got the impression the actors had much, if any, interest in the feature outside of Phoenix who ranges from very good to over-the-top mimicry.

In the film's final moments you're likely to see several critics praising Phoenix's performance. If there was ever a bid for an Oscar nomination on screen this year, this is the scene. Phoenix seems to be doing his best Marlon Brando imitation and while it may move others it felt nothing but false to me. I never fell for his character's journey to become a better person and contributing to the fabricated nature of the entire scene, Cotillard's tears, fist-pounding and straight-forward dialogue lacked any measure of believability.

I can point to moments where this film has opportunities to get things right, but each time it fails and only compounds each mundane decision by repeating itself until all that's left is to walk out.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/MovieFan/ Movie Fan

    This saddens me because this was one of my own anticipated films and the negative review made me a lot less excited to see it

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    WOW. This has to be the biggest surprise of the festival. I thought for sure this was going to be good. What a shock. No interest in seeing it now, thank you very much.

    • SohoDriver

      Okay, I'm sorry, but it's just Brad's opinion of the movie. If you were anticipating it before, why does his opinion of it mean you have "no interest in seeing it now"? I can understand why you'd have less anticipation, but absolutely no interest? That's frankly ridiculous.

      I think Brad is a fantastic reviewer, and I respect him as a writer, but I often disagree with him on films and his opinion isn't just going to completely stop me watching a film. I'll form my own opinion on it.

      • http://www.cinemaconfessions.com/ Gautam Anand

        Yes, exactly the point. Brad's opinion shouldn't affect one's interest. Unless something is universally panned down, (which doesn't seem to be the case with The Immigrant), there isn't any need to raise the red flag.

        There have been instances where Brad allocated D grade to a film and I have gone on to like that film. Most recently The Impossible.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

          I tend to disagree with Brad & critics most of the time, I do agree some of the time with Laremy but yeah, i'm with you on The Impossible which is a great example, I also liked that movie. You should judge the movie yourself instead of just taking a critic's opinion and automatically go oh i'm not or i'm going to see it at least that's how I do it.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

            To all of you, I need to clarify something that I probably should have done earlier. My opinion was not formed entirely by Brad's review. It did play a part in it, but, the thing is, I didn't have much anticipation for it. I do know that I said I thought it was going to be good, but that was because of the cast the director found, not because of my anticipation for it. I knew nothing about the story before today, so I was going to wait for a synopsis to see whether I was interested in it or not but reading Brad's description, I knew that it wasn't my type of film. And I do tend to disagree with Brad frequently. Most recently, he didn't like Star Trek Into Darkness, while I happened to really enjoy it. I'm sorry if I sounded rude, but I needed to clarify what I actually meant.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

              Kudos Corbin!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kmilner18/ Kyle Milner

    I don't have much faith in James Grey. I've only seen We Own the Night and Two Lovers but neither of those have impressed me.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    Wow, this is legitimately surprising, and disappointing.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adrianocrowbar/ Adriano

    I really enjoy Gray's previous collaborations with Phoenix - especially the wonderful "Two Lovers". Hopefully I'll disagree with you on this one, Brad. But I'll approach it with less expectations now.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Oh man, Brad you're KILLING me but that's fine haha. Now, that's two Cotillard movies you in which her performances are very disappointing. Looks like this won't be her year as far as Oscars goes. Oh man, i'll still watch this and Blood Ties and hopefully like it more than you but this is very disappointing news.

  • http://www.cinemaconfessions.com/ Gautam Anand

    Having been huge fan of Gray's Two Lovers, this saddens me. Though I am still hopeful, considering many critics have loved/liked the film. Not to suggest anything, but Gray's films have always been loved in Europe but not so much in America.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    I'm hearing that this is probably the most divisive movie of the fest. I can't wait to hear the podcast for this one.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

      Even more than Only God Forgives?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Thornsy/ Thornsy

    My favorite reaction to this movie has been Jonathan Romney's: "The Snoring 20s".

  • brad fuck

    Don't believe this review. If there's anything to praise skyhigh, it's Marion's performance. She's utterly fantastic, not robotic. Better watch it yourself!

    • Cassie Frye

      So true. This is the only negative review I've read, in regards to Cotillard's performance. Sure, I've already read that the film overall is receiving mixed reviews, but most acknowledge Cotillard's stellar performance. Oh well. Can't please everyone.

    • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10


      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        "Brad fuck"

        That is all. Lol

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt

    The response to this and "Only God Forgives" is so disappointing. Granted, I've read some very positive reviews for "The Immigrant" but based on the criticisms in Brad's review and the other negative ones, this doesn't seem like a film I'll like. But I will definitely check it out for the cast alone.

  • Cassie Frye

    This is baffling. I've been eagerly waiting and hoping for a possible oscar nomination for Cotillard, and then you write this review. It's baffling because almost EVERY OTHER REVIEW has praised Cotillard's performance in The Immigrant. And from the clips I've watched, she's certainly not 'robotic'. The pauses in her phrasing, perhaps have to do with the fact that her character is foreign? Either way, it's too bad you didn't enjoy it. I will definitely be watching the film when it releases.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    Wow, this is shocking. Sounds like it's the worst film of the festival so far. Do you think this will have a spot on your worst of 2013 list Brad?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Torryz/ Torryz

    Like I said with the Nebraska review, there have been a lot of film Brad hasn't liked.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Torryz/ Torryz


  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Elijah/ Elijah

    I still gotta see this because seeing Joaquin in films again is just awesome. I'm Still Here I could only sit through 5 minutes but I enjoy most of his other work.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    Despite Brad's review, I will hold off on impressions for this one. Too many opinions spoil the "stew" for me. There has been a lot of chatter regarding how critics influence one's opinion of films. I find that I fall somewhere in the middle of these varying thoughts. In particular, a grade Brad gives for a film stays with me. AND, I do my best to reserve my own impression.
    I have always appreciated Cotillard's performances. She is a favorite of mine. I tend to lend more leeway in cases like this where there are mixed reviews.

  • Zachary Marsh

    Funny, I just saw the movie today at the Philadelphia Film Festival. It wasn't without flaws, but I found the direction from Gray to be great, the acting, particularly from Phoenix, to be fantastic, and I found the film as a whole to be fascinating and really good. But since Radius is releasing this instead of regular Weinstein, this film has no shot at any awards love, which I personally believe it deserves.

  • Stergios

    "The Immigrant" is without a hint of doubt one of the greatest American films of the last decade. It's a film of heartbreaking emotion, narrative richness and historical urgency. James Gray delivers a film that deserves repeated viewings to reveal all of its virtues. And Marion Cotillard's performance is one of the wonders of the cinema world. She inhabits her character so completely it ends up extremely scary. It
    doesn't feel like a performance at all. You find yourself thinking
    you're watching the most crucial parts of her character's tormented
    existence unfolding in front of your eyes. No-holds-barred, Cotillard
    dares to abandon herself into her role in a way no actress in the
    history of cinema can claim she did. Body and soul, she gives her all.
    It's a marvel to watch, an unforgettable tour de force, a performance
    for the ages. She take home her second Oscar in 2015. If not, the Academy members should be ashamed of themselves for the rest of their lives.