Well, they have really f*cked up the promotional campaign for this film, haven't they? If it had come out in late 2014 it might have been a major contender during this awards season, and certainly made more money at the box office. Phoenix and Cottilard deliver very strong performances (Renner not so much), and the film itself, even if flawed at times, has 'Oscar bait' written all over it. Oh well...
The fine formal celebration of the classic cinema grammar finds, after the death of the character played by Jeremy Renner, a plastic ascent towards an operatic tragedy and areas of shadows grows up to the limits of beauty. The final plan, a real-false split-screen, in its context and dimension, only find an equivalent plan at the end of Ford's "The Searchers" or Visconti's "L'Innocente": ecstasy of narration.
A beautiful and evocative film, but I can understand why some are put off by Gray's anti-modern emotional sincerity. The Immigrant is unabashedly melodramatic, and the elevated tone works well with the personal story at the film's core. Gray has a strange way of accumulating mood and moments, and surprising the audience with how fully his characters blossom by the end.
As much as I want to wholeheartedly get behind Gray's most ambitious film, I must admit that it has problems that can't be blamed on ADHD, fear of melodrama, or Harvey Weinstein. What do you say about a movie that has beautiful visuals, extremely uneven storytelling, a complex thematic depth, some embarrassing acting from Jeremy Renner, and a heartbreakingly perfect last shot? You say "see it", and hope people do.
That's the stuff. No individual set pieces leap out like the car chase in We Own the Night, but there's a kind of purity of expression here that's a rare thing in these times. It aligns itself with an older tradition without being overly nostalgic or overtly postmodern about it.
In its tone, its pacing, its themes, its intelligence and moral seriousness, so far removed from contemporary American movies that it feels like it's from another time or planet. Gray is the only young American director whose works I value, and he gets better with each film. I need to see it again down the line to be sure, but I think it may be one of the great films - one of the very very few - of recent times.
Gray is really cut a lot of slack on Mubi. Visually stunning indeed (Dharius Khondji a master of shadow and light) but dramatically not very interesting. Pretty much the same problem that all of Gray's work possesses, save the very fine 'Two Lovers". Cotillard fails to make her character the irresistible woman that the two male leads fall for; and both Renner and Phoenix fail to connect here. Against the grain here.
Though "The Immigrant" is one of the best pictures of the year, it is still a bit of a let down: Gray creates a central character that owes too much to Bresson and whose emotional strength is lost in her own impotence. He even has to clear the doubts we had about her moral behaviour on the ship to America. It is the character of Joaquin Phoenix that saves the picture: he's the bad guy, but it's him we want to redeem.