Title: The Immigrant
HTS Overall Score:
I love being surprised by a film. Reading the tag lines, watching the trailers and coming out of the end product saying “I didn’t see that coming”! “The Immigrant” is one of those films, with a tag line and short description that does nothing to reveal the twists and turns hidden within the hour and 57 minute runtime. The description led me to believe that this was another emotional melodrama, where your heart strings are tugged by the poor innocent girl who’s held victim by the evil villain who keeps her from getting her sister through Ellis Island. Throw in a dash of handsome young man to sweep her away from all her misery and voila, people cheering and clapping at the end. Instead we get a fantastically layered and deeply touching story of grey. By grey I mean that these people live in the world of grey and shadows. There is light and there is darkness in each of their hearts, a purpose and a method that drives them through life. You can’t help but hate the “villain” and love the “hero”, but at the same time sympathize with said villain and curl you lip in disgust at the hero.
Marion Cotillard gives the performance of a lifetime as a polish immigrant named Ewa. Coming to Ellis island with her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), she is thrown into a life of depravity as she is turned away from entering the country due to an incident on the ship. Magda is placed into the infirmary on hold due to lung disease while Ewa is picked up by a handsome stranger named Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) and manipulated into becoming a burlesque girl for a New York club. Bruno is able to wheedle his way into Ewa’s good graces by promising her work, only to slowly get under her skin and use her sister’s plight against her in order to get her out onto the stage. With a man like Bruno, enough is never enough money and soon she’s out on the street as lady of the night as Bruno rules over his “flock” like the pimp that he is.
Things get complicated when Ewa catches the eye of another handsome stranger. This time in the form of Bruno’s charming and above reproach Cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner). Fascinated by Ewa he pursues her, only to come to the realization that Bruno is in love with Ewa in his own sick and twisted way. This causes a conflict of interest as well as different aspect of each men’s character to come out into the light. Emil’s silky shiny exteriors shows signs of a deeper rage and a deeper violent streak than he lets on and even Bruno’s charlatan exterior shows just little hints of the humanity that he left behind years ago. It’s fascinating to watch the entire story unfold, as you would expect this to be filled with melodrama and period piece cheese, but each character is so unique, so well nuanced that you want to find out what happens to them next, no matter how villainous or angelic they appear. I mentioned that they live in the world of grey, and that is most certainly true. Emil is an angelic knight in shining armor, but you can’t truly root for him when you see those cracks in his armor. That’s not to say he isn’t the best man between himself and Bruno, it’s just that the movie picture perfect character is not as perfect as kind as he seemed (despite actually being rather kind). On the flip side Bruno IS a despicable character. You loathe him for his treatment of the girls. His rage and his pettiness consume him as he devilishly ruins their lives for his betterment. Yet at the same time you see his twisted love allow him to stick his neck out for the girls, especially Ewa, in an effort to keep them safe from harm. His character can never truly love, but those elements of caring and love are there, buried beneath years of despicable living and a life time of shame and humiliation.
Ewa is the center of attention during the movie, as it’s her tale. She’s a morally upright and steadfast woman who is forced into doing things that she believes is wrong in an effort to survive and to make sure her sister survives. Her shame and her repentance is real, but she does what she must so that Magda doesn’t suffer the same way that she is suffering. Even when she faces brutal humiliation from lewd and drunk patrons of the club, as well as the outright shunning by her relatives living in New York, Ewa manages to do what must be done in order to survive. What makes her character truly remarkable is the ability to forgive and love in a place where I wouldn’t blame her for being bitter, angry and hateful for the rest of her life. It’s not a simple forgiveness that you see in most movies where she blithely forgives the villain and is happily ever after. She lives with the pain and the anger over her plight, but there is that humble forgiveness that one gives when they realize that there is pain and suffering in another’s life. That kindness that and love that defies all logic, but reaches out despite its own suffering to alleviate the suffering of someone else. True love (and I don’t mean the romantic kind).
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language
Anchor Bay’s 2.39:1 AVC encoded transfer looks simply marvelous on home video, showcasing a classic filmic look that sports plenty of fine film grain and detail to support it. The image won’t ever “pop” like a shiny digital movie, as it’s coated in a sepia color tone that feels rather well-worn and saturated with overblown contrasts and a sense of earthy warmth. The contrast is boosted just enough to give that old 1920’s flapper feel to the picture and the dirty, earthy tones given to the rougher side of New York give the impression of a lived in feeling. The characters feel worn and tattered, as if they’ve gone through a lot in life and the storytelling backs that up perfectly. Director of Photography’s Darius Khondji shoots the film with such exquisite texturing and a sense of depth that you could watch the entire movie with the sound off and still be amazed how much storytelling you could understand. Black levels sometime show some washing out due to the boosted contrast levels, most of the blacks stay inky and deep with plenty of shadow detail.
The lone 5.1 DTS-HD MA track isn’t going to be a sonic powerhouse, as the dramatic elements of the film dictate that it stays more than a bit front heavy and dialog centric. The surrounds tend to be very relaxed and rarely filled with detail, but the score fills them out nicely when asked upon and the front channels are alive with the activity the surrounds are missing. Dialog is crisp and clean for the most part, but I did notice a VERY slight harshness to some of the shriller vocals. Almost as if they were being pushed a bit too hard in the recording study and started to distort at the ends of words. It was never very noticeable, just something in the back of my mind as I listened. After the first 30 minutes though it seemed to vanish though. LFE is simple and mainly used to accentuate the score but there are a few times where a slamming door, or the rush of a train brought out the low end and lit the subs stretch their legs for a split second.
• Audio Commentary
• The Visual Inspiration of The Immigrant
• The Immigrant Theatrical Trailer
“The Immigrant” is one of those little movies that comes out of the blue and surprises you, despite seeing the obligatory “Best Picture Winner” on the movie’s case. Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard give spell binding performances that really make the tale so much more resonating and well done. The beautiful cinematography and period setting only serve to enhance the delicious feast set before us and the Blu-ray specs only speak for themselves and make this a release well worth watching. I have to give this one two thumbs up.
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: James Grey
Written by: James Grey, Ric Menello
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 117 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 7th 2015
Buy The Immigrant On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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