James Gray’s The Immigrant is a great film in hiding, practically buried by its distributors and not embraced enough by the critical community; even its greatest reviews seem subdued. The Weinsteins should be ashamed of themselves for the embarrassing way they treated this movie – it’s like they thought they had a dud on their hands and they pretended that it didn’t exist. It’s better than pretty much every other movie they put their company logo on in 2014, and over time, I truly hope it attains the status it deserves as a captivating, frequently brilliant and completely consuming work of American historical art. Every single shot in The Immigrant is worthy of museum placement. Legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven, Evita) is a visual genius, and the way he paints with light is a marvel to behold. Engrossing doesn’t cover it as this film overwhelms you with both epic and intimate details. It’s easily the best, most fully realized work from Gray, and he’s made some superb movies (Two Lovers, Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night), so that’s no small compliment. There’s an ambiguous nature to the patient narrative, and by the end of this tragic and distinct piece of work, you’ll have experienced a serious range of emotions.
Marion Cotillard is a magnetic screen presence, portraying a European immigrant coming to America in the early 1920’s, arriving with nothing in her hands at Ellis Island (how were these scenes achieved?), and meeting the potentially nefarious Joaquin Phoenix, doing customarily intense work as a shady business man with various ties to unseemly individuals. He’s smitten immediately, and whisks her away to his apartment, eventually putting her to work as a high-end call girl. She then meets a frisky and upbeat stage magician played by an always in-the-moment Jeremy Renner, who also starts to fall in love with her. From there, Gray tells a tale about love, the American dream, and the idea of people coming to this country and trying to navigate the slippery waters of citizenship. It’s simply mind boggling why this haunting, uniquely adult, and magnificently mounted production got buried with a half-assed release during the summer movie season. This was a “fall prestige picture” all the way, and I hope that Gray steers clear of the Weinsteins moving forward (they also botched the release of his Godfather-esque drama The Yards). And just wait for the final shot – it’s astonishing in its quiet beauty and utterly devastating in its narrative implications.