Has there ever been a career resurgence quite like the one Joaquin Phoenix is having?
When he "retired" from acting, ostensibly to focus on rap music, and then made a bizarre pseudo-documentary about it, many in Hollywood felt that Phoenix could never recover from such an off-putting public display. But after four years without a movie — not counting the fun-house version of himself he played in "I'm Still Here" — Phoenix returned with starring roles in back-to-back triumphs. He earned a Best Actor nomination for his unforgettably nervy characterization in 2013's "The Master," and he showed his sensitive side in last year's Oscar-winning "Her." And he's looking to keep his string of critical successes going with a dark and charming turn in the upcoming "The Immigrant."
Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard plays the lead role of Ewa, a Polish woman who arrives at Ellis Island in 1921 with her ill sister (played by Angela Sarafyan) who is not allowed into the country. With no friends and no options, Ewa is taken in by Bruno (Phoenix), who hides a ruthless streak behind a friendly facade. Bruno forces Ewa into selling herself in hopes of earning enough to free her sister, but a charming stage magician (played by Jeremy Renner) offers a glimmer of hope for a better life.
"The Immigrant" is Phoenix's fourth film with writer/director James Gray ("The Yards," "We Own the Night," and "Two Lovers"). Gray called the film, which debuted at last year's Cannes Film Festival, "my most personal and autobiographical film to date," with the story and details inspired by tales from his own immigrant grandparents who came to the U.S. in the 1920s. He wrote the lead role specifially for French-native Cotillard, who had to learn 20 pages of dialogue in Polish.
And Phoenix isn't about to slow down. He's reuniting with "The Master" director Paul Thomas Anderson for December's "Inherent Vice," based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Truly, the hip-hop world's loss is Hollywood's gain.
"The Immigrant" opens in limited release on May 16.