TBT: The Immigrant (James Gray, 2014)

While not typical Throwback Thursday fare because of it’s recent and still-expanding theatrical release, I still felt compelled to convey my thoughts on James Gray’s latest and near-career best effort. Enjoy!

James Gray is not your average American auteur. Like I stated somewhat recently in my review of The Yards, the man’s films explore human nature in a decidedly complex light, what with central characters often playing a dual morality card as illustrated through differing narratives. In the case of The Immigrant, we’re offered an earnest prohibition-era tale of female Polish hopeful Ewa (Marion Cotillard) as she and her sister Magda arrive on Ellis Island, the latter of whom does so in a noticeably poor state. Forced apart due to unavoidable circumstances, Ewa soon avoids impending deportation thanks to the enigmatic Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) – a volatile individual that provides her with a means of supporting her ailing sister if only by way of prostitution.

Although its first act noticeably employs stilted era-afflicted narrative and performances, The Immigrant more than saves face once its able to delve deep into the central characters’ moral compasses. Simultaneously illustrative of Ewa’s circumstantial misfortune and her aspiring suitors’ mutual interest in her, the film takes pride in its humanist spin on an obviously bleak historical timeline. Beyond what drives Phoenix’s Bruno and Renner’s Orlando’s respective professional ups and downs, we’re offered valuable insight into their relationship and how their falling out adds (dramatically) to Ewa’s ever-present struggle.

The ensuing conflict is what propels the film past historical familiarity, what with Gray and co-scribe Minello’s creative nuances steering clear of stock key player tropes. Despite The Immigrant‘s initially decided branding of Bruno as its antagonist and Orlando’s obvious foil, it becomes clear that these gentlemanly books aren’t meant to be judged by their covers. Like most people, these men possess discernibly muddy track records that paint them as imperfect individuals. While they’ve both made mistakes, it’s still entirely possible that either one’s possession of Ewa’s sentiments wouldn’t be in her best interest and, because of this, The Immigrant soars above the typical insipid period piece.

Barring the safely-played first-act portrayal of Ewa’s plight, James Gray’s latest thrives on its subsequent humanist excellence. The proceedings become as much about the titular transplant’s struggle as they do the people she meets and, coupled with an excellent era-specific aesthetic, it’s this distinction that effortlessly solicits engagement. Even if you’re not entirely familiar with Gray’s palpably personal style of filmmaking, The Immigrant is both well-made and unique enough in scope to outlast the qualms some may have with similar subject matter.

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