42. The Immigrant (James Gray, USA, 2013)
I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. But there’s no way around it: I just can’t stand Joaquin Phoenix. Outside of Her, I have never, ever found him anything other than a distraction. He’s compelling only in the sense that he’s a black hole from which no light can escape, sucking every other quality a film might possess closer and closer into his orbit until he eventually devours it.
Any time he is not on screen, The Immigrant is a beautiful, arresting work. The scenes without him feel like scenes from a masterpiece, from a future classic. Marion Coutillard is extraordinary, it’s beautifully shot, the story is simultaneously intimate and epic. I am tempted to say that with another actor in Phoenix’s role, this could be one of the greatest American films of the last 20 years. But James Gray has worked with Phoenix several times now and says he might not have made this movie if Phoenix didn’t want to do it, so clearly he is getting exactly what he wants. So perhaps it doesn’t matter: there is something in Phoenix’s performance style that is essential to Gray’s vision, and it likely wouldn’t sit right with me no matter who was in it.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to read this spectacular review by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who loves the film and writes eloquently and devotedly in its favor. He writes in a way that makes me actually wistful about not liking the film more. I want to love it the way he loves it. Don’t mind what I have to say.
(SIDE NOTE: I love John Tavener’s Funeral Canticle but I reallllly hope it’s not going to become the new Adagio for Strings over the next several years of movies.)