Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Directed By: James Gray 
Written By: James Gray & Richard Menello 
Cinematography By: Darius Khondji 
Editor: John Axelrad & Kayla Emter 

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Domincyzk, Angela Sarafyn, Runy Valentine, Legs Malone, Tansy, DeeDee Deluxe

1921. In search of a new start and the American dream, Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda sail to New York from their native Poland. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda is ill, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, she quickly falls prey to Bruno, a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. And then one day, Ewa encounters Bruno's cousin, the debonair magician Orlando. He sweeps Ewa off her feet and quickly becomes her only chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself. While the film looks beautiful. It feels more full of melodrama then anything g else. So that while it has plenty of other opportunities to explore aspects of the story it creates. It flirts with them while keep revolving around a love triangle that is demented yet we have seen before.

Which is a shame as it has Interesting characters and the situations they find themselves in have dramatic weight and the actors create memorable characters. Though after awhile the love triangle just feels monotonous.

The film pays careful attention to detail.

The title was originally "Lowlife", but the author of an novel with the same title threatened to sue James Gray, so the title was changed to "Nightingale" and was changed once again to "The Immigrant".

It's nice to see Joaquin Phoenix playing a lead here his character is conflicted as a smooth Jewish pimp who finds his downfall in his obsession with an innocent polish immigrant that he picks up to abide. Who he feels so special about that he has no problem selling her though no one can possess her even he won't have sex with her. This is actually his fourth time working with Director James Gray

Marion Cotillard is good in her first English speaking lead role. The film gazes at her and lingers on her face that in half the scenes her face does all the acting and reveals all the subtext. While verbally also she expresses her characters rage and dismay many times. she also had to memorize 20 pages of Polish dialogue and she had only two months to learn it.

Jeremy Renner is ok as the other romantic lead. He is a bit bland, but his back-story helps explain why he is that way. Just trying to be a good person and make up for his past sins.

The film is brutal In it's aspects. Though kind of a bleak tale it does have it's fun sequences and a kid of happy yet tragic ending.

This is a film that would have felt classic in another era. Though never quite epic I creates a world in a small landscape that had been recreated expertly. The problem is that we have seen stories like this encore and it lacks the emotional impact of Tahoe films also. Here this more reserved so kind of a quaint melodrama instead of scenes full of over the top emotional fireworks. Other then sadness Cotillard is left with nothing but internalizing her performance. While Phoenix just goes around and yells, Then becomes sweet. At least he has something to do and play.

It's not a bad film and fits into director James Gray's wheelhouse. With it's subdued tone that seems to always take place in New York. Not as stylish as his previous film it still has a matured handling of the material and performances. It's rich but comes of a by bland for it's own sake. It doesn't bring anything new to the table not does it make It excitable for the things we already know will happen.

The film has a color balance, that paints everything in drab darkness rarely does it display any bright colors to make anything glow brightly. That might disrupt the films nature.

Marion Cotillard was cast after she met director James Gray during a dinner at a French fish restaurant where Gray and her husband Guillaume Canet were talking about the script of BLOOD TIES. Gray and Cotillard proceeded to get into an argument about an actor. "She threw bread at my head and she mentioned that she thought I was a jerk. And of course as consequence I immediately loved her." Gray told he had never seen Cotillard in anything before, but was instantly drawn to her. "I thought she had a great face, and not just physically beautiful because she is, but a haunted quality, almost like a silent film actress. I've talked about this, but she reminded me of Maria Falconetti in the Carl Theodor Dreyer film THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC able to convey depth of emotion without dialogue specifically. I watched every film of hers I could get my hands on. And then I knew I had to write something for her. So that's the genesis of this thing [The Immigrant]. I wrote the movie for her and Joaquin Phoenix, and if they hadn't wanted to do the movie, I'm not sure I would have made it", he told.

Everything feels deadpan and simple, luckily when it comes to anything sexual while there is nudity the film holds back on showing any action.

James Gray is a director I have always ha to take on a film by film basis his body of work I respect and it easily recognizable. Though I can't say that I am a fan of each of his films. Some grow on you and some stay the way thy initially were when you saw them. I like that all of his films are rich in character and their pasts that are slowly revealed. Though at times I wish there were more emotional fireworks on screen or at least some action. All of his films seem to have a sense of dread that hangs over them. This film is no exception, but I can admit I look forward to each new project.

Each of his films feel big and happen in a large arena of the world, but manage to stay self contained and stay I their own little world

Everything feels composed to a certain degree, tone and color

The film has the look right. That makes it feel historic and brings certain romance, but as always looks can be deceiving because for all the reality it also brings the brutality of day to day life of the times too. As you can truly never trust no one in this tale. As they are going through the ins and outs of survival. Luckily the film focuses on more the mental anguish rather than the physical. That give the film more of a reserve and a certain clean formality.

No matter how much I admire the film. There just seems to he something missing in the film at least for me. As it seems to come to a boil, but never feels fully cooked. It can pass for a meal. Though is not as flavorful as it could have been. Though then again most of James Gray's films are more subtle then bathing in a certain indulgence. Except for WE OWN THE NIGHT which was certainly still subtle but Gratuitous with actions at least more than usual for him. It was jarring at first. Then found it’s path. I was hopeful he was going to continue in that direction. Here he goes back to his basics and I applaud him for sticking to his vision and telling the story in the manner he wants to, not necessarily to how the audience wants or demands it to be.

Shot on film rather than being a purely digital production. Not only helps the look and feel of the film it also gives it a timeless quality. That makes the film important a artifact of a continuously bygone era, Including the technology used. Sort of like the film THE MASTER. Though not as grand or get reaching as that film. They have not only a Common leading actor, but also symbolic of filmmakers getting a chance to have their vision come to life on a bigger scale. That in today's studio atmosphere is harder to do. Actually making well budgeted pieces of art more than just simple entertainment. While films like GANGS OF NEW YORK, GODFATHER: PART 2, RAGTIME and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA seem to feel like a mural or tapestry of the times and immigrant experience of the past. As well as life in the overflowing neighborhoods of New York. Once New Amsterdam. The inhabitants, the hustle, the exile. All are around for this film is more singular. It is more a portrait that takes notes of the downtrodden, that never allows itself to be a romantic fantasy either

It’s a film that lets it’s settings also tell part of the story without words. Showing survival and day to day life is interesting as it is kind of like a thriller wondering when your next meal and shelter will be. Avoiding cops and the people with money who would readily exploit you, then disregard you. It adds a certain amount of interesting drama that the melodrama never comes close to peaking with. 


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