The Immigrant is a consistently interesting, but rather forlorn movie about Marion Cotillard’s troubles getting her tubercular sister past Ellis Island and into the United States, with the rather questionable help of Joaquin Phoenix, back in 1921.
It’s notable for its extremely persuasive, I am willing to assume authentic, production values and a fascinating performance by Phoenix, bit it’s not exactly the cheeriest movie in town.
Phoenix’s character is not very likeable or admirable, but from his point of view, he’s just doing what has to be done, and nothing in The Immigrant proves him wrong. He runs a shabby little topless bar and theatre, and rents out his girls on the side.
As he points out more than once to Cotillard, nobody else is offering to help her at all, and getting her sister off Ellis Island in her state of health is surely going to cost a good deal more than Cotillard can earn as a seamstress.
Nobody seems to seriously object to the line of work he offers, and Cotillard doesn’t show any ability as a showgirl, so there you are.
As the movie goes along, it is evident that Phoenix does have some kind of special interest in Cotillard, and nothing indicates that he has a lot of money of his own.
I think we have a accept this as a love story of a rather peculiar kind.
Cotillard is so trapped that she doesn’t do much more than submit to others’ orders, though she doesn’t seem to enjoy anything but the thought of getting her sister back.
The part was supposedly written for her and she’s good in the role, but it’s pretty one-dimensional. She doesn’t dare show her feelings, if she has any, about either Phoenix or his cousin, Jeremy Renner, who complicates things, but is neither a hero nor a villain.
Nobody is, in The Immigrant. It’s not that kind of movie.