NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, James Gray‘s long-awaited follow-up to his indie hit “Two Lovers,” had its showing with press and industry folks at the New York Film Festival today. Starring Academy Award Winner Marion Cotillard as Ewa Cybulski, a Polish immigrant that comes to New York with her sister in 1921. When her sister is taken to the hospital on Ellis Island after being suspected of being sick, Ewa is taken in by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming but wicked man who forces her into prostitution, and the two end up on the mean streets of Manhattan while looking for a way to get her sister freed.
Written by Gray and the late Richard Menello, the film is a stylistic and detailed painting that can be fully appreciated by the attention that Gray places on the era. Most notably Production Designer Happy Massee places the best set pieces seen at this year’s festival. The emphasis that Gray places on attempting to create this 1921 world, filming in the streets of New York and the halls of Ellis Island, are simply superb. Patricia Norris’ stunning costumes, especially the ones created for Cotillard and her sisters of the night are gorgeous. Darius Khondji captures the darkness of the city, a polluted air, and manages to create an eerie, near horror film-like setting.
From a narrative angle, while there is a lot of attention to detail, our story moves at a snail pace. Gray and Menello don’t provide enough back information to appreciate any of the characters. Cotillard, Phoenix, and co-star Jeremy Renner are left to their own vices to exude any motivations. I’m not sure if it entirely works out for the film in the end.
Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard is just as good as she ever is. She continues to show a range similar to her snubbed work in last year’s “Rust & Bone.” As Ewa, she portrays successfully an inner conflict that she battles throughout our entire story but never gives us the reasons why. I’m all about ambiguous endings and enigmatic characters but sometimes we require the key facts to helps us understand.
Joaquin Phoenix is probably my favorite actor working today. He brings such a zeal and mystery to his interpretations of a character each and every time he takes on a role. As Bruno, he’s constantly at battle with himself and the audience in either painting him a villain or a hopeless romantic. In the press conference following, Phoenix proved his prickly nature. He’s not someone who does it for the fame. He’s in love with the art, not the politics and bureaucracy of the entertainment industry. You have to respect him for it. He’s a brilliant actor. Him and Cotillard shine incredibly.
While Jeremy Renner has proved his worth in the industry with miraculous performances in “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town” – the talented thespian is just too modern for a period piece of this nature. His turn as the magician Orlando, who falls for the beautiful Ewa, doesn’t serve anything more than a driving force to move our story along. Even the way his character is written feels like someone out of “Rounders” than something in the 1920’s.
Distributed by The Weinstein Company, the film currently has no release date and is heavily rumored to be coming out in 2014. If and when that happens, technical consideration should be given to Production Design, Costume Design, and Cinematography. Marion Cotillard is worthy of a Best Actress nomination if critics and AMPAS voters gravitate towards her darkly interpreted turn.
“The Immigrant” suffices as a theatrical experience but in the end the appreciation for its visual and detailed nature are the only things that impress.
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