The Immigrant ★★½

Informal review: meh...
Formal review: Melodramatic manipulation is onstage in a rundown section of 1920s Manhattan where young female immigrants persevere burlesque and prostitution in their unwavering pursuits of the elusive American Dream. A life filled at first with a solidarity in sorority among the bathhouses and living quarters, sporadically giving way to self-preservation through an instinctual survival skill set, James Gray’s melodramatic, yet realistically bleak, depiction of one Polish woman’s quest for the American Dream, not only for herself but also for her sister, currently quarantined at Ellis Island with tuberculosis.

Rescued from one seemingly inescapable circumstance and swiftly whisked into another equally inescapable circumstance, needing money to secure her sister’s medical care and ultimate release Ewa quickly acquiesces into a life of burlesque performance and prostitution, deciding to continue her controlling relationship with the quick-tempered Bruno.

Not only is The Immigrant undeniably predictable, but it also happens to be frustratingly awkward in its presentation. Scenes that are left to breathe instead come off as amateur improv where the actors lack the ability to effectively end conversations and interactions, simply opting to stand around lazily kicking the ground at their feet.

Fortunately, the visuals delivered from Darius Khondji occasionally break up the monotony of the melodramatic manilla folder material on display; gloaming-set sequences swathed in musty ochres, sewer-set beat-downs by lamplight and departing at dawn on the fog-rich waters by rowboat, all of which are presented beautifully, but not enough to save the film. Gray’s bleak period-piece is far from awful, although it is equally far from greatness as well, occupying a middle ground of quality that makes it immensely forgettable. If only the film played out with the emotional intensity unveiled in the deftly composed conclusive scene between Pheonix and Cotillard.

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