The Immigrant

June, 2014, Drama

 Good movies have many different ingredients, in varying degrees of quality - - but great ones always feature a superb screenplay. But a corollary is also true; no movie, regardless of the artistic talents involved, can succeed with a bad one. Sadly, writer/director James Grey begins here with an awful script, nearly doing in his talented cast featuring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. Working with co-screenwriter Ric Menello, Grey fashioned this trite examination of a young immigrant’s exploitation (Cotillard) by a conniving pimp (Phoenix) who eliminates his rival (Renner) before a burst of inexplicable gallantry in the final reel. The film has nothing to justify the price of admission except its ability to serve as a case study of how absurdly written dialogue can overwhelm even the best of actors.

Oscar winning Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) survives here because her role primarily consists of wearing the facial expression of a valiant-but put-upon heroine who drifts into prostitution under the Phoenix’s relentless manipulation. Following brilliant performances in Her and The Master, Phoenix lumbers through a series of ludicrous scenes in which he lurches between chores as a song and dance man, a psychotic manipulator of prostitutes and low-level street thug. Renner, brilliant in The Hurt Locker and terrifying as a street thug himself in The Town, has the thankless task of portraying a sweetly naive itinerant magician who tries to rescue Cotillard from the evil clutches of his rival.

 This plot’s been around since the silent movie era and it’s to veteran cinematographer Dorius Khondji’s credit that he’s able to capture an era (the early 1920’s) with evocative images that seem to spring from the pages of long-ago rotogravures. But even that authentic “look” can’t survive the grinding banality of Grey’s screenplay.

The Verdict? At best, this is an unfortunate mistake; at worst, it’s an absolute cinematic dog.    

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