It seems practically criminal that a filmmaker as consistently talented as James Gray should be so harshly overlooked. Beginning his career in 1994 with his debut feature Little Odessa, a film that would show his potential as a director fascinated by New York City (his home-city), family bonds and the mixings of various cultures. Following this Grey quickly gained his stride and, for me, really had his first masterwork with his third film, We Own The Night, an absolutely phenomenal film that works as a Scorsese-ian crime drama, Friedkin-esque thriller and staggering family drama simultaneously. Grey followed that film with Two Lovers, a film that saw him drift away from his focus on crime and, instead, tells the story of a depressed man who finds himself stuck in two relationships at the same time – a truly depressing melodrama that played against typical romantic dramas and rom-coms brilliantly. Having explored some different ground, Grey would wait five years from 2008 to 2013 before releasing his next film; the film I believe to be the crowning achievement of his glowing career thus far: The Immigrant.
The Immigrant concerns Marion Cotillard’s Ewa, a woman who migrates to 1920s New York in the search for the American Dream and a better life, only to find anything but. Joaquin Phoenix co-stars as Bruno, a man who helps Ewa to settle in but, knowing her financial situation, expects her to exploit herself in return for his help. It quickly becomes clear that the American Dream relies on more than just the sacrifice of time and energy; it requires you to give all of yourself and will eat away at those who don’t start strongly with acidic teeth.
Cotillard’s performance is a frankly perfect riding of the line between vulnerable and truly strong. She fights with the constant back and forth that comes with a life wherein you have little say over what happens and can only do as you’re told. Darius Khondji, one of cinema’s many underrated cinematographers, also brings his A-game to the film as he often goes for lingering, wide static shots that allow the scenes to play out in a deceptively simple manner, before culminating the film with one of the greatest final shots of any film, period.
Few films carry such an emotional punch as this ferocious masterpiece, a film in which every element is so beautifully linked with intention that it all comes together as an almost unmatched cinematic symphony, and yet for James Gray it is just another of his fantastic works.
The Immigrant, distributed by Wild Bunch, is available to rent from Amazon and iTunes. Watch the trailer below: