From The Weinstein Company
Immigrants have often expressed great joy in coming to the U.S. but history has often glossed over how difficult the journey was and the frightful treatment they experienced upon arriving at Ellis Island. For many their new lives were fraught with poverty, prejudice, injustice and little opportunity to find decent employment. This is a film about that stuggle.
Two Polish sisters arrive at Ellis in 1921 with no money and few possessions but immersed in the hope that an aunt and uncle will look after them. That is immediately dashed when it is determined that one of the sisters has health issues too serious to allow her to roam about the American landscape.
The healthy one, frantic at being separated from her beloved sister, falls prey to a pimp-producer of girly shows, a man she doesn't like and a lifestyle she abhors. He does, however, provide money she desperately needs and a promise that he will use his influence to get her sister released from quarantine.
The pimp, of course, falls for her as does his cousin who is a magician on and off the stage. The cousins have a shared acrimonious history which is not helped by the fact that they both fall for the same woman. The drama of this trio and the quest to be reunited with the sister propels the film to its dramatic end.
I haven't been to the movies in ages, it seems, and what got me out to this one can be summed up in two words... Marion Cotillard. Luckily, I came away with a whole lot more. I love it when a film surprises me and this one did. It was a two-hour exercise in struggle, survival, resilience, devotion, suffering and the human condition. There are some lessons to be learned for the character and the audience. Director Gray also co-authored the screenplay and he is to be commended in both areas.
Of course I loved the period look of the film from the sepia-like palette created by the superb photographer Darius Khondji to the magnificent sets to the spot-on costumes.
I have a laundry list of superlatives I could heap on Marion Cotillard. I have seen every English language film she has made and a couple of her European ones. When I saw her play Piaf in La Vie En Rose, I was blown away, as certain then as I am now that that was the greatest performance ever by an actress. She would have been a marvelous silent movie actress because she does so much of her acting with simply her face, that luminous face. Her ability to play victims or at least characters who are vulnerable is in no small part due to those sad eyes. I am madly in love with her. She was perfection itself in this role.
I have never been a particular fan of Joaquin Phoenix but I must say he pulled this off quite nicely. It's probably not a great stretch for him to bring life to a character that is troubled and complex and I bought every minute of it.
Jeremy Renner's part is not as well-written as the other two but he is such a good actor and invests the part with a sweet earnestness that we don't always see in his roles.
I don't know how well this film will do at the box office. Coming at the beginning of the summer blockbuster season, it could get lost in the comic-book hustle and bustle and explosions and car crashes. It may be too bleak for some, too tawdry, too mean-spirited. And I am not sure the title will exactly draw an audience (but better than what it was going to be called... Lowlife... most inappropriate). But I gotta say that for those who are serious moviegoers, this is a film for you.