Fri 23 Dec 2016
Director James Gray returns in his 2013 production of The Immigrant to one of his recurrent themes – the one that made him known in the first long feature film he made Little Odessa – immigration, and to his preferred background which features also in his debut but also in the more recent Two Lovers – New York. Actually his other well known feature film We Own the Night was not located too remotely as well. In all his last film we also enjoy the presence of Joaquin Phoenix, an actor that I highly appreciate. We can already speak about a cluster of works happening more or less in the same milieu, with a team of actors and a style of story telling that make it consistent. Not necessarily successful – to my taste at least.
This story of two sisters arriving in New York in the 1920s, and their fight to remain in the New Promised Land and survive by all means could have been made in 1930, or 1960, or 1990. It would have looked a little different as technical means differ, but otherwise not too much seems to have changed. The 2013 version adds too little from an emotional point of view to really make a true impact. Neither does the passionate and tragic love story between the pimp and the new innocent immigrant look too true. It starts as a story of mutual destruction, it continues as a tragic love triangle, it ends by destroying the charmer and the harmer in a too much expected way.
If there is one actress who can play wonderfully melodrama today on screens, this is Marion Cotillard. She does exactly what is expected, and so does Joaquin Phoenix. This is not enough. Director James Gray knows how to tell a story on screen, but his style must overcome the cliches in order to free the good director we guess he is. Chaplin’s film with the same name made almost 100 years ago still remains a stake of value hard to exceed.