In 1921, Polish immigrant sisters Ewa (Cotillard) and Magda (Angela Sarafyan) are detained at Ellis Island, due to Magda being quarantined for her tuberculosis. Corrupt pimp Bruno (Phoenix) becomes infatuated after seeing Ewa in line at the island, and bribes one of the guards to release her. He subsequently takes her into the city and forces/tricks her into a life of prostitution, while dangling the possibility of her saving enough money to secure Magda's release. The issue becomes even more complicated when performer Orlando the Magician, who is really Bruno's cousin Emil (Renner) also takes a liking to Ewa.
- Crapsack World: New York in the 20's. It's not so roaring for those struggling to survive, the authorities are completely corrupt, and social stigmas are so great that family members will actually refuse to help each other escape from sexual slavery.
- An Immigrant's Tale: All there in the title. Magda and Ewa begin the film docking at Ellis Island in 1921.
- Mood-Swinger: Bruno is not the most stable of men.
- The Oldest Profession: Bruno runs a brothel, which zigzags between being an actual place of employment and a place holding sex slaves. Many of the women there are under some sort of coercion or have no where else to go, but some play it off as being their willingly. Ewa does not.
- Sex Slave: Bruno is particularly good at tricking/conning women into becoming these, and keeping them that way. Ewa finds this out the hard way.
- Troll: Emil is definitely one. The biggest example comes when he threatens Bruno with an empty pistol. This actually gets him killed.